The kids from Longfellow Middle School taught us a game that they play to help them understand how to learn culture better.
The game goes like this: you separate into two groups, one in each room. (This time the groups were called the Betas and Alphas.) One group plays one game; the other plays the other. This is the Alpha’s game: everyone gets a chip. To ask to play the game you stomp your feet three times. To say yes you tap the person’s shoulder who asked; to say no you walk away. If you say yes you hide the chip behind your back in one hand. The person who asked then guesses by touching one arm which hand the chip is in. If they get it correct they say “rafa-rafa” three times and everyone taps their shoulder. If they don’t you walk away. There are also elders who always have to win. One more thing: no talking.
One of the hardest things was that you couldn’t talk unless you were saying “Rafa-Rafa,” because that is against the rules. The kids from the other group came in without knowing any of the rules and the first thing they did was talk. The elders then kicked them out…
The Betas were traders. Each of them started off with five different cards. They had to go around trading, and the object of the game was to get five of the same color cards but with a different animal on each. Then you would get five points, which was money. There were a few trading limits, however. The main catch was that we didn’t speak English so we would hold up the color card we wanted and make the animal’s noise. So if I held up a blue card and went “oink, oink” that would mean I wanted a blue pig, etc. The Beta had a big personal “bubble” (a no-touch zone) and when we agreed on a trade you would set the card down far away then the other person would do the same. Then you would pick up the other person’s card without touching them, and go trade some more.
After we practiced with our separate groups, we’d be allowed to enter the other “culture” and try to understand their game…. I figured out as soon as I got in (to the Beta game) and was handed my cards that the tricky part was figuring out how to trade. It would have taken me a while to figure it out if I had walked around and tried to interact, so I decided to sit back and observe. One thing I discovered immediately was that everybody was walking around making animal noises… if you wanted a card with a cow on it, you’d say: “moo.” That left me with one question—how do I communicate which color I want? After a bit more observing I realized that you held up another card of the color you wanted to receive and if they had it, they’d drop it on the ground and you’d drop another and that’s how you traded…. It was pretty hard to figure out what to do in the opposite culture and the game obviously was to be compared with situations like Hmong coming to America…