In Tribute to Harry Triandis - June 2019

colleague friend harry c. triandis intercultural leader june 2019 tribute Jun 14, 2019

Teaser: Why did his wife and close friend Michael Bond call him Ulysses? Answer: because Harr—like his countryman—led an amazing intercultural life.

In Tribute to Harry Triandis
by Sandy Fowler

We will have an article in the August issue of The Interculturalist: A Periodical of SIETAR USA regarding the career and contributions of Harry Triandis. Michelle Gelfand, a former graduate student of Harry’s, and author of the recent book Rule Makers/Rule Breakers has agreed to write about her mentor and his many contributions to the intercultural field.

I would like to take this opportunity to write about my friend and colleague Harry Triandis. In the mid-1980s Harry invited me to be on a symposium at the meeting of the International Association of Applied Psychology in Edinburgh, Scotland. I knew who he was because I had read and cited him. I had no idea that he knew who I was. At that time I was the head of the US Navy’s Overseas Duty Support Program, the Navy’s equivalent of an intercultural program in the civilian world. I was honored to have received the invitation and that was the beginning of a relationship with both Harry and his wife, Pola that lasted until his death on June 1, 2019.

Fast forward to 2009. The SIETAR USA 9th annual conference was to be held in Cary, North Carolina with the theme: Intercultural Solutions for Challenging Times. The Conference Chair, Kelli McLoud-Schingen needed a keynote speaker so, I offered to contact Harry. When I called and explained what we needed, his immediate response was: yes, of course, he and Pola would be pleased to attend. His keynote address was titled Troubling Times Across Cultures, in which he examined how cultural factors interact with the problems of troubled times. Harry had recently published his 7th book, Fooling Ourselves: Self-Deception in Politics, Religion, and Terrorism (Praeger Publishers, 2009) and he used many of the ideas from that book in his talk. I remember that the response was controversial. Neal Goodman in particular took issue with Harry’s conclusions, which Harry enjoyed. He liked being challenged and was always willing to talk through the challenger’s response.

Harry and my husband Ray Fowler were good friends over many years so when Harry and Pola started coming to San Diego for several winter months we often got together for dinner. They began thinking about moving to San Diego to be closer to their daughter Louisa and their two grandsons (and escape the Illinois winter weather) and after a few years of trying it out, moved permanently to Carlsbad (where I currently live). They relished their retirement community; Pola was a member of the Food Committee, Harry led topical discussions, they went to the opera and symphony concerts and developed a whole new cadre of friends. Harry loved to talk politics but found he had to be careful what he said to whom.

Harry’s most recent appearance at a SIETAR USA Conference was in 2017 when he was the speaker for a Fireside Chat. He said a few things and opened the floor to questions and comments. Jon DeVries remembered how open and gracious he was. We had invited both Harry and Pola to speak at the session but Pola couldn’t make it due to illness. She passed on about a year ago and since that time, I had a monthly dinner with Harry. It still seems impossible that he won’t be waiting for me to pick him up outside of his home in Carlsbad By The Sea, so that we could go to a local restaurant to talk about the world and the current administration.

Last November I contacted Harry to ask him if he would write a column for the new SIETAR USA newsletter. He asked what the deadline was and I said it would be in January after I assumed the Presidency. He responded that at age 92 he wasn’t sure he’d be around in January so he’d do it right away. I got the article the next day and it was published as he wrote it. For readers who would like to know more about Harry, his autobiography, An Intercultural Life, is available at It’s well worth the time to read to get the full flavor of Harry’s intercultural career. And I am sure that all of Harry’s fans have a favorite book of his—mine is Culture and Social Behavior (McGraw-Hill, 1994). In this book Harry covered everything I wanted to know about culture and introduced me to some new ideas. The 3 cultural syndromes that he described and their relationship which was most useful for me in designing a simulation game that most people have not heard of: TTOIRAM.

In closing, I’d like to quote Adam Komisarof from the International Academy of Intercultural Research list serve: “I met Harry only once briefly at an IAIR conference, but to a young scholar like me who had cited him extensively, it was a watershed moment.  As so many of you have reflected, Harry was kind and gracious when I met him.  I hope that all of us established in the field can share Harry's spirit by welcoming and encouraging younger researchers with the same warmth and humility.  That way, both his academic work and his personal ethos will live on.” I will add that Harry’s spirit would welcome not just the intercultural researchers but also the practitioners and educators. He would embrace us all.

Sandra M. Fowler
President, SIETAR USA