It’s very easy to offend without meaning to, so it’s important to mention a few cultural differences. There are many ‘Should do’s and Taboos’ which are too numerous to mention, but the following information is included to help you be aware of just some of the many cultural differences.
At all times, show respect and sensitivity to cultural differences. If in doubt, look, listen and learn!
- Western cultures are very egalitarian, and place little emphasis on status but more on competence for the job. Many younger people have senior jobs in the West because of their abilities. In most other countries in the world, senior positions are reserved for older employees who deserve the respect of their juniors.
- In the West, we are very ‘outcome’ focused. We will do things in the way which is most efficient to achieve our goals. ‘Goal orientation’ is almost a religion in America. For other countries, taking time to build relationships is the most effective way of meeting ones objective.
- Time is money in the West! Everything has to be done by a deadline. For other people, time is of little importance. For the West time is running. For the rest of the world time is coming! In English you may be asked, ‘How are you going to spend your day?’ In other languages, the verb used will be enjoy.
- In Asian cultures, you wont hear anyone say, ‘No.’ outright. ‘Yes,’ does not automatically mean ‘Yes.’ It is more likely to mean, ‘I hear what you say’ or ‘May be.’ A pause is sometimes a sign for ‘No’.
- Don’t talk about your own personal successes. This can be seen as rude and boastful, especially to the people in the Far East. Even the Nordic cultures dislike ‘posturing’.
- ‘Face’ is crucial to Asian cultures. Giving face is as important as saving someone’s face. This applies to the same degree to Latins and Latin-Americans, but is less tangible.
- The pursuit of ‘Wa’ (harmony) in all things, and at all times, is essential.
- Silence is acceptable in many Asian and other cultures and is a sign of politeness. Leave time for people to respond to you. The Finns are renowned for their silence
- A handshake can last up to 10–15 seconds. For some cultures, it is extremely important for them to be handshaking at the same time as the passing of names. This has implications if you have to ask someone to repeat their name; you can be holding on to a stranger’s hand for an uncomfortably long time!
- Status and seniority are of great importance in some cultures. It’s a good tip to ask someone how they would like to be addressed.
- The habit of touching or holding someone’s arm when you speak is not always regarded as friendly.
- For Muslims there is no physical contact between men and women. In strict countries, do not even attempt eye contact with a woman if you are a man.
- If you are a woman, it is advisable not to offer your hand to a Muslim man.
- Kissing between sexes, even a peck on the cheek is NOT polite or acceptable in many cultures, though between men it is much more acceptable than in the West.
- Pointing with your index finger is regarded as rude. With a left hand its worse! Don’t beckon with a wagging finger.
- The head is sacred. It is where the soul is located so never pat a child on the head, or ruffle their hair.
- In Africa, knowing someone’s seniority is extremely important
- If you are ever given a gift, it is not always appropriate to open the gift immediately or in front of the giver. If the gift is inappropriate they will lose face.
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