Elina, a high school student in Bulgaria, was taking part in an activity from the school Erasmus+ project and was talking with Elsa, her partner from Sweden, about the assignment they had to complete. Because they needed some help with the task, Eva turned to one of the Bulgarian teachers,”Mrs. Yaneva, can I ask you how specific we need to be when we write the critical incident?”. The teacher went over and gave additional explanations. However Elsa looked puzzled.
What puzzled Elza?
- Swedish students prefer not to ask their teachers questions when they are doing group work – they’d rather find the answers themselves.
- Elsa felt Eva was being bossy, asking questions on her behalf.
- The teacher had given confusing explanations.
- Eva addressed her teacher in a strange way.
- a) Swedish students are indeed independent but asking for help from the teacher is normal and acceptable;
- b) it is hard to imagine the full context, so in certain situations, such scenarios might make one feel left out, but when you are a host, it is natural to initiate such moves, so this option is unlikely.;
- c) This is not unlikely, but would depend on at least two factors – the explanatory style of the teacher and the fluency of English of all the participants – sometimes the language barrier leads to such misunderstandings.
- d) This is the correct answer in this particular case – the incident above is based on a real encounter and Elsa was surprised that Bulgarian students call their teachers by their family name. She’d expected an informal form of address, i.e. by the first/given name.
What’s going on here?
The way students call their teachers differs a lot across the globe. In countries like Bulgaria or Italy, there is a greater (power) distance and this is reflected in the more formal relationships between staff and students. We noticed that the practices in Italy and Bulgaria are similar, while those in Sweden and Catalonia reflect more informal relationships where it is common to call a teacher by her/his first name.
Perhaps this is an indication of social and institutional hierarchy and the way it is practised by the cultural groups.
Additional information on this topic in the link below
The case of Sweden is really interesting. Informality has been a result of a movement for equality and the article below explains how the media and influential people can accelerate such change. How Sweden reformed their form of address or the Du-reform