Pardonnez-moi: Learning Cultural Etiquette

Communicating with words and more

Learning to communicate involves more than just knowing what words to say. There are questions of how you say those words, when to use them appropriately, and also how to express yourself with your body,  hands, and behaviors.  I watched a World War II film recently in which an Englishman spying on German soldiers inadvertently seals his fate. He orders three drinks by holding up his middle three fingers–rather than using a thumb and two fingers as a German would–and this simple gesture gives him away.   Now, most cultural ‘faux pas’ won’t cause life or death consequences, but knowing the cultural etiquette of a country you are visiting can help you avoid embarrassing situations and manage the expectations you might have!

It’s about time.

In Greece or Brazil, punctuality is not extremely important; however, in Luxembourg you are likely to offend if you are not on time for a meeting.  Knowing the cultural expectation will help you know how to respond if you get out the door behind schedule.

Nice to meet you.

In many cultures, conversations begin with questions about how your family members are doing.  Take the time to answer and inquire about the other person’s family–these are not considered personal intrusions, but rather expressions of concern, respect, and politeness.

Don’t get touchy.

Russians might use lots of hugs, back-slapping or other physical displays when conversing, while Taiwanese are more reserved and may nod rather than shake hands upon first meeting.  In some countries, people stand very close when talking.  To others, this may feel like an invasion of ‘personal space.’

Take time to learn about the cultural etiquette of different countries.  This site offers many examples of behaviors to expect when greeting, meeting, dining, and visiting other countries.  After reading about other places, what examples of cultural etiquette can you give for YOUR country?  List your thoughts below in our comment section!