Arguing Asparagus
This activity uses a short literary selection
To introduce an appreciative inquiry of values and behaviors found in another culture;
To examine some of the less obvious rules of disputation in urban French discourse.
While this activity stands on its own, it is also a good example of a process that the trainer
can replicate using other short pieces of literary material that capture the more sophisticated
aspects or nuances of a culture or an intercultural interaction.
This is an advanced exercise. It should be used only with a group that already has familiarity
with the culture under discussion (in this case, urban French). It is best with 6 to 16 participants.
55 to 60 minutes
Handout 1 contains the literary text and the questions for discussion for each participant. This
can be printed back-to-back, but it might be easier to use two sheets of paper so participants
can have both the literary text and the questions in front of them at the same time. The sam-
ple handout below contains more questions than most groups can fully discuss in the time
period allotted. The facilitator might want to customize the list by eliminating or adding
questions for a specific group, or assigning different questions to each of several small groups.
1. Prepare a handout of the literary text and discussion questions in advance, using either
Handout 1 or your own.
2. Tell participants that they are going to engage in a short activity in cross-cultural apprecia-
tion—in this case, an opportunity to see how an argument is handled in another culture.
They will be asked to apply what they learn to their own experiences with members of
that culture, in this case to managing conflict in that context.
3. Provide each person with a copy of Handout 1. Then ask them to carefully read the liter-
ary text on the first page. They might wish to read it more than once. Then, without con-
sulting with other members of the group, they are to individually respond to the questions
assigned to them on the second page of the handout. (15 minutes for steps 2 and 3)
4. Depending on the size of the group, discuss the results in the whole group (15 minutes) or
divide them into small groups to compare and discuss their individual responses to the
situation in the text (also 15 minutes). In this case, it will be necessary for the small
groups to summarize their discussions and report them to the whole group at the end of
their discussion. (10 minutes)
Ask each person to take a moment to quietly and privately summarize what he or she learned
or became aware of while doing and discussing this exercise. Then have volunteers share
with the rest of the group what they find important.
Arguing Asparagus
Antoine nodded at another merchant across the way.
“Now, this man grows excellent asparagus,” he whispered. “It’s interesting. Two hundred, a
hundred and fifty years ago, it was always green asparagus; now the demand is for white
He went up to the grower and said, in French, “Why is it that no one any longer grows green
asparagus? When was it that people went over to white asparagus?” The man gave him an
incredulous look, and then said in the beautiful clear French of the Ile-de-France, “You
know, I would say that what you’ve just stated is the exact contrary of the truth.” It was a
perfect Parisian tone of voice—not argumentative, just suggesting a love of the shared pur-
suit of the truth, which unfortunately happens not to be in your possession right now.
Antoine made the right response. He raised his eyebrows in polite wonder while smiling only
on the left side of his face—an expression that means how greatly I respect the vigor of your
opinions; however, they call to mind the ravings of a lunatic. “What do you mean?” he
“Well, it is my experience that everyone grows green asparagus now. It’s all you see for
decorative plats, that touch of green. In the magazines, for instance, among the fashionable
chefs, it’s all you see—green asparagus. It has a much greater decorative effect. It’s
“Ah, yes, for decorative effect,” Antoine agreed calmly. Everybody won.

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