Cultural Differences And Appeal Letters

I think cultural differences become a big mess of entanglement in appeal letters. Time and time again, I’ve encountered this problem of trying to help somebody with his or her appeal letter, only to find myself unsatisfied during the process.

For one thing, the content of an appeal letter is inevitably self contradictory, to certain extent at least. It wants to beg for reconsideration but it cannot say the previous consideration is wrong; it strongly believes that the decision makers can make sound and reasonable decisions but it is also obliged to dispute the previous decisions; it wants to present himself or herself in a better way, but it doesn’t really know which part of his or her previous presentation is good and which part is bad.

With such embedded controversies, an appeal letter is difficult to write. On top of this, if you are writing an appeal letter in a non-native tongue, it is more difficult. And if this non-native tongue happens to be English, it adds another layer of difficulty, given the fact that English language has an unfathomable sense of subtlety and politeness to deal with.

For example, you can’t really say you are very sad as a result, you can’t really say you are crying, you can’t really say you want to vent your frustrations on social media, you can’t really say you have screamed and yelled as a mad person. Not in English. In other language, it might be considered a truthful representation of your situation and win sympathies–well, you are frustrated and what can be better representation of your current emotional status than some wild reactions and impolite gestures? However in English, one has to be well balanced, polite, and cool. Otherwise it is no good. I am not saying one can’t express emotion in English since one can certainly do it in one’s writing and the wild emotional turmoil in the book “Of Human Bondage” is my favorite. I can’t have enough of it. However not in appeal letters–I don’t know why.

I still remember in high school, we had a visit from a high school in Japan. All girls. It was for one or two days. I can’t remember exactly how long. Also I can’t remember what it was for, probably to commemorate something. Anyway, the day when we said farewell to each other, most Japanese girls burst into tears and we were very much pleasantly surprised and embarrassed. We didn’t think our brief encounter should have caused such an emotional display…. Somehow we thought that in Japan, crying is very much encouraged, at least for women, even though Japanese culture is very reserved in our imperfect understanding of it. Anyway, we wrote an appeal letter the next day and I still roughly remember the beginning–“we cried and our tears form a river that circled our campus; we screamed until all the trees and flowers hear our voice…” It was practically an exaggeration. None of us cried or screamed. It’s just a figurative speech. And the letter is to plead for a longer visit and better planned activities. Now to think of it, I’m from a very reserved, family-based culture that has an aversion to emotional display. Still, the culture doesn’t care if you go overboard with your writing. This letter was perfectly normal and nobody thought it strange.

However if this letter were in English, it would be considered corny, sentimental or something equally unaesthetic. Or probably the writers of this letter would be considered somehow imbalanced or weird.

18 thoughts on “Cultural Differences And Appeal Letters

  1. It’s very interesting that you brought this up because I can definitely relate. Especially about the letter because in my culture that would be normal too but to show actual emotions and cry like that would be considered quite odd since we are not often very emotional.

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    1. Yes, different cultures have different ways of exercising the “art of begging”. And being melodramatic is considered ok in some cultures but not in other cultures. Isn’t it funny this way?

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      1. Yes absolutely and I think it’s interesting how countries that are close to one another or are on the same continent sometimes have very similar cultures and norms for things like this.

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        1. Yeah I find some cultures are very compatible too but some are just foreign to one another. I find Asian or African cultures easier to understand due to my upbringing but find Western ones a bit confusing sometimes.

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  2. You are so right; in English, one has to be well balanced, polite, and cool.
    When I was young and living in London, half a century ago, my English boyfriend sometimes advised me not to get excited like an Italian๐Ÿ˜˜

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    1. So true. So true. Incidentally, I once heard of a similar story when I was in graduate school. We had a research forum and I overheard a man with a British accent telling his colleague that his neighbor was a Greek family and their exuberance exhausted him whenever they met.

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    1. Yes, me too. However I can’t advise others to do it. For this reason, I am always unsatisfied as far as appeal letters are concerned. “Please, please, allow me to express my sadness and frustration in the full extent.” I want to say.

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        1. Yes, you are right. English is quite uniquely subtle in this regard. If one pleads to the full extent, it will be like over pleading. I don’t know why this is the case but it is.

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        2. I think the reason is for brevity. When you are writing to ask for something, being short and to the point makes your intentions clear.

          I can’t explain why going on too long makes the request seem insincere, but it does. I can see how this doesn’t make sense to someone who does not share a lifetime of American cultural upbringing. In fact, it doesn’t make sense to me either.

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        3. Yes, brevity is quite a virtue in here. Writing something too long seems to be a very selfish act of trying to waste other people’s time. And one has to write a letter that’s brief and to the point. Also plead with the right tone…

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