Usually we are concerned here with how to use language more effectively to understand others. Here’s another dimension of the effort to see the world as others see it. In Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions, author Batja Mesquita explores the interaction between culture and emotion. Emotions, she maintains, are different in what she terms WEIRD cultures — Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) — and most of the rest of the world.
One example: We assume that it’s healthy to express our emotions. But in many parts of Asia and Africa, it’s taken as a sign of immaturity. “Calmness,” Mesquita writes, “is a preferred emotion in a culture that expects you to put the group’s needs above your own.”
As an illustration of how emotions sometimes fail to translate, Mesquita inventories feelings that have no words in other languages. Polish, for instance has no term for disgust. Japanese, however, uses the same word for shame and embarrassment.