The term critical incident refers to a communication situation, which the participants (or one participant) consider as problematic and confusing, even amusing. Critical incidents are occasions that stay in mind. Typically, critical incidents consists of examples of cultural clash events - situations where unexpected behavior occurs - with suggestions on how to solve these situations.

Flanagan (1954, 327) defines the critical incident technique as… "a set of procedures for collecting direct observations of human behaviour in such a way as to facilitate their potential usefulness in solving practical problems and developing broad psychological principles". The purpose of the critical incident technique is to develop one's ability to see interaction situations from perspectives of different cultures (Salo-Lee & Winter-Tarvainen 1995, 83).

The roots of the critical incident technique can be traced back to the late 19th century, but the theory itself was not introduced to the field of cross-cultural training until the early 1960's (de Frankrijker 1998, 55-56). A great number of so-called "culture assimilators" or "intercultural sensitizers" have been developed in order to help those who intend to live abroad for a longer period of time. In the United States the assimilators were, and still are, used in the training of special groups such as Peace Corps volunteers, nurses, teachers, managers and their families who intend to become expatriates. In Finland critical incidents exercises have probably been the most common way of preparing expatriates for a long stay abroad (Salo-Lee & Winter-Tarvainen 1995, 83).

The opportunity to think carefully and analytically about a critical situation promotes cross-cultural awareness and accelerates teaching and learning. In that way, critical incidents are an important strategy that can be used to highlight differences and potential misunderstandings, which arise out of culture.

In a way all communication can be seen as intercultural, because we all have our own history and background, which we carry with us whenever we communicate. Furthermore, misinterpretations and misunderstandings are not rare in intracultural communication either. (Salo-Lee & Winter-Tarvainen. 1995, 82.)

This introduction is followed by two critical incidents. Some critical incidents can be more culture specific, some are more culture general. Your aim is to analyse these incidents and to think of them from a viewpoint of different cultures and intercultural communication. You'll get some ready-made suggestions for interpretations and analyses for each of these incidents, but fell free to analyse them yourself!