The Culture Interpreter, your compass in communication

Examples from practice

Below are just a few examples from the Culture Interpreter’s practice:

The sacrificial sheep

A non-western immigrant was hit by a car. The collision had a significant impact and caused substantial orthopaedic damage. The emotional reaction was severe. In the culture of the victim, tradition prescribes the sacrificing of a sheep after an incident like this to celebrate the victim’s  survival. A sacrificial sheep costs about € 1,000. In this case, the victim was of the opinion that the person responsible for the accident was to cover these expenses. The Culture Interpreter was called in to cultivate mutual understanding between the two parties. Our team helped the victim recoginse that in the Netherlands there is no existing legal ground for claiming the cost of a sacrificial sheep, while persuading the insurer that sacrificing a sheep would play a vital part in enabling the victim to recover from the accident.

In the end, the insurer decided – on the advice of the Culture Interpreter – to cover the cost of the sheep. This gesture was greatly appreciated by the victim. The issue was resolved smoothly and harmoniously and the injury claim was easily dealt with. The relatively minor investment in the sacrificial sheep proved well worth making.

The social assistance benefit

A Moroccan woman with a social assistance benefit was injured in a traffic accident. There was little debate about the actual damage. The insurance company and representative soon agreed on a suitable indemnity. However, the victim refused to accept the money, even after several attempts. Neither did she put forward a counter proposal. Both the insurer and the victim’s representative were embarrassed by the situation. The case remained unresolved for a year and a half as expenses piled up. Then the Culture Interpreter was requested to intervene. After establishing the precise origins of the woman, the Culture Interpreter called in a female specialist with roots in the same region. The woman’s confidence was quickly gained and soon enough it became clear why she had refused the settlement: it turned out that she believed accepting the indemnity would mean losing her social assistance benefit. This would have placed her in a problematic financial position. She had not dared to mention this to her representative or to the insurance company. After the necessary clarification, the case was resolved within two weeks. Importantly, the insurance company was not required to pay for any extra damage – the fact that the misunderstandings were solved was enough.


A man originally from a country in central Africa was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. He was badly injured. A personal injury lawsuit was duly started. A few weeks after an intake interview with a representative, the first meeting with the insurance company’s representative was held. While the intake interview had been a challenge, the encounter with the insurer was even more strained. Language was not the problem. What caused the difficulties was the seeming negative and reluctant attitude of the (African) victim. Despite the good intentions of both his representative and the insurer, communication remained arduous. The victim stuck rigidly to his role as victim and seemed incurably agitated. Because of the serious nature of the injuries, this factor threatened to complicate matters and raise costs. In consultation with both parties, the Culture Interpreter was called on. The first step was to find out where the victim was from and to find a communication specialist matching his profile. After several telephone calls and a meeting at the victim’s home, the Culture Interpreter found out what was the matter. It turned out that neither the perpetrator nor his insurer had ever properly apologised for the accident. In the culture of the victim, negotiations on a proper settlement could only begin after such an apology had been made. The victim was too angry and too proud to demand an apology himself. However, as soon as this problem was identified, the Culture Interpreter made sure due apologies were made. This cleared the air and enabled both parties to make further arrangements in a pleasant and accepting atmosphere.

A mother’s prominent background role

A non-western minor was run into while riding her bicycle, incurring slight physical injury. Her parents claimed that the psychological damage was substantial and the father of the victim went to great lengths to emphasise this. The meetings held between the father and the insurance company’s expert were strained. What the expert did not know was that the mother of the victim was pulling the strings, making all the decisions that had to be made on behalf of their daughter behind the scenes. In this family’s culture, this was the usual way of doing things. As a matter of fact, the father was not even aware of all the ins and outs. The mother, who did not attend any of the meetings (another part of the family’s tradition), was the one who felt her child’s injuries were not being taken seriously. Once the Culture Interpreter had assessed and analysed the situation, the mother was explicitly invited to participate in the proceedings. The air was soon cleared and communications improved immediately. After a brief intervention by the Culture Interpreter, the situation was dealt with to the full satisfaction of all parties involved.