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To reduce conflicts and misunderstandings that arise so easily in written-only on-line communications, internet forums developed netiquettes, various rules of behaviour. Since European Tribune is an international forum, with participants who have different mother -- and father -- tongues, cultural assumptions and sensibilities, misunderstandings happen the more easily. Fortunately, users learnt to deal with this.

The points below are more distilled guidelines than rules, and more about attitude than actions. And they are symmetrical: speaking to both sides of a misunderstanding.

Generally, if you enter the blogosphere,

  • consider that what you type is just a text: though it is live communication and not like a book or even letter, there are no facial expressions, no intonation, no gesticulation, no subconscious past experience with that person to guess his/her mood. Therefore, you only imagine the others' emotion - and you may get it totally wrong. Conversely, whatever you type, don't expect that your real emotions are the only reading of it.

  • consider that even the 'non-emotional' content of a text can be read differently: you may miss where the emphasis is, you may have a different understanding of a word, and so on; and again whatever you type, it doesn't necessarily have a single reading.

  • consider that many one-liner replies are comments meant either ironically and sarcastically (at ET, we prefer to call them a "snark"), whose succint nature makes misunderstandings of the above two kinds all the more easy. Conversely, if you feel you have a good snark, consider that it can be misunderstood, consider whether the poster you reply to is new or sensitive before posting it.

  • consider that you do not have to reply. And vice versa: consider that if you have been misunderstood once or twice, your opposite may get a wrong (offensive) meaning even more easily.

Specifically on European Tribune,

  • consider that a lot of people don't communicate with you in their first language. Even after years of study, people can err in the meaning of words, not realise that a mangled-up order of words gives a different meaning, or - very important - try to translate word combinations or concepts from their first language 'too literally' and get something else. Vice versa, if you aren't communicating in your first language, and get a 'strange' reply, the error isn't necessarily on the other side.

  • consider that people come with cultural differences. Some local cultural specialities will have evaded you even if you lived in that locale as an expat for years. Vice versa, if you see someone not comprehending a concept familiar to you, it's not necessarily down to obstuseness or lack of humour, it's better to explain it first.

  • consider that some of these differences are so deep that they touch concepts you think of as basic, concepts you have never even thought can be viewed differently.

  • consider that most people here come with some national sensibilities, and may take attacks on public persons from their nation personally. But vice versa, if you come to ET, do not expect to be taken as an unquestionable authority on matters in your country, and be prepared both for strong opinions by outsiders and for disagreements - to not feel distressed, consider that on ET, everyone can find her/himself in the same situation!

Even more specifically in the existing EuroTrib community,

  • consider that many if not most people here happen to have footing in more than one country/culture: most of us are expats, ex-expats or migrants. Hence, it is not wise on this group blog to look for a simple nationalistic bias behind some view you disagree with. Even if there is bias, it can be more complicated.

  • on the other hand, consider that being someone with footing in more than one country/culture doesn't mean you don't have biases of cultural origins. If you lived in three countries, you still haven't lived in nearly two hundred others (and even more cultures).

  • specifically, if you lived in two countries/cultures, in which different outside views dominate about a third country/culture, that won't suffice for a fair view, even if the two are diametrically opposed.

  • whatever country/culture/nation/continent/etc. you are commenting on, it's good to be aware that people are individuals. This should extend to language: it is advisable to avoid using unqualified general terms ("the Brits", "Frenchmen" etc.)

So, considering all of the above, I think misunderstandings are unavoidable, but I believe it is a worthy advice to say: always doubt having gotten the correct meaning of what you or whom you reply to tried to communicate. Also, to keep enough emotional distance to avoid being offended, and to be able to 'climb back' if there has been a misunderstanding - which is best dealt with by discussion combined with reflectation, not disappearance or flame war.

One extra point: on European Tribune, we expect to read thought-through arguments, and expect people to be ready to dig up evidence to support their claims. Doing so won't ensure agreement between opposed sides, but at least people are more likely to take each other seriously. By evidence, we don't mean linkdumps or long quotes from webpages and nothing else -- if you reference something, you are expected to at least point out how you think it is relevant and why you think the source is authoritative. By thought-through argument, we mean no firing from the hip, and at least reading the opponent's argument in full.

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