Standing in front of a table of appetizers at a recent party in New York, I was surprised by the look the hostess gave me as I grabbed a chip and scooped up some dip. It wasn’t until sometime later when I was showing a client our article on personal conduct in Brazil that I spotted my faux pas, or kind of faux pas. You see the hostess was from Brazil, and one thing you never do in Brazil is pick up food with your hands – yep, even appetizers. I wondered why she grabbed a chip with a cocktail napkin.
Or have you ever found yourself in a foreign country relying on the server to tell you whether it is customary to tip in that country or not and how much? That happened to me in Italy last summer. While the server mentioned there was no need to tip, she wasn’t quite convincing, making me wonder. I left a tip.
Although these are minor and subtle nuances of culture, it was still important to the hostess or the server. And that is the point of seeking to understand one another’s culture. What might be commonplace in your culture could be unusual or even offensive to a newcomer. Approaching cultural differences with sensitivity, openness, and curiosity can help to put everyone at ease.
How much do you know about culture? Try to answer the following 3 questions and then click through to see how you did!
1. In South Korea, which is considered acceptable?
- a. Eating in the street.
- b. Blowing your nose in public.
- c. Covering your mouth when yawning.
2. In the UAE, which statement is true?
- a. Make sure you get people’s names exactly right, don’t abbreviate, and do pay attention to the spelling.
- b. It’s OK to lose your temper and stand your ground in negotiations.
- c. Try to be direct when speaking.
3. In Russia, what should you never do?
- a. Remove your gloves when shaking hands.
- Make the “OK” sign.
- Hug, kiss or show other public displays of affection.