A Few Cultural Differences To Take Note Of…

Saying Hi!

When it comes to meeting new people and making friends, it’s important to know what kind of greeting to anticipate so you don’t get caught off guard. Americans tend to greet people with a standard handshake when they meet for the first time. This could create some shock if they went to Paris where people greet each other with a kiss on each cheek (la bise). In Greenland you might address someone with a Kunik or “Eskimo Kiss” on the forehead. In Tibet it’s considered polite to slightly stick your tongue out when meeting people, which could be interpreted differently by those not familiar with this custom. You wouldn’t want to be in a situation where you’re going in for a hug or a handshake and end up with the other person trying to kiss you on the cheek, rub noses, bow or even stick their tongue out! Get ready to say hello in hundreds of different ways before you venture out.

Table Manners

There’s nothing more intimidating than sitting at the dinner table with new friends in a new country and not knowing what to do. Do I put my hands on the table or on my lap? Can I put my elbows on the table? Should I use a fork? Spoon? Eat with my hands? All valid questions! Every culture has its own etiquette when it comes to dining. In Thailand for example, people don’t use their forks to eat, they use it to push the food onto their spoons. When eating rice in Japan, it’s highly advised to use chopsticks but don’t cross them or stick them in the bowl, it’s considered bad luck. Similarly, on the superstition side, in India it’s considered bad luck to eat with your left hand. We wouldn’t want to offend anyone, especially when it comes to bad juju!

Money Talks

It’s important to be mindful of the culture of tipping wherever you go. Whether it’s gratuity for the waiter, the porter, the taxi driver, or your tour guide, be sure to know what the culture is in your new country. Some countries require tipping, some include it in the bill, others make it optional, while certain frown upon it. If you’re in the U.S. it’s usually advised to leave 15–20% (anything below reflects extremely poorly on the service). Most countries in Europe or Latin America advise just 10% if it wasn’t already added to the bill. But whatever you do, don’t leave a tip for waiters in Japan! Like a few other countries around the world, Japan considers tipping very rude. Be careful!

Timing is everything!

Let’s talk a bit about time. The white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland always seemed to be late for his very important date, but what did he consider as being late? In some parts of the world, being late can be seen as negative and sometimes it’s considered the norm. If you’re in Germany, where punctuality is at its highest, and your meeting starts at 9am, it’s best to be there no later than 8:59am. Other countries are notoriously lax regarding their notion of time. For example, in Ghana, if you’re hosting a social event at 6pm, you know very well most people will show up closer to 8pm. That’s the effect of the Ghana Man Time (GMT). It’s so renowned that an expression was developed based on the frequency of delays. Major traffic in the city, especially in Accra, definitely contributes to the foundation of the GMT. Time management around the world is different. So that white rabbit could have been late on German time but early on GMT!

Work Ethics

It’s not about how hard you work it’s about how much you value work. Your approach depends on the society you live in. Some people are all about working long hours and overtime. Others are strict about leaving work on time in order to get home and catch their favorite show or have dinner with the family. Breaks during the workday can also vary. For example, the norm in Sweden is to take multiple short breaks during the day whereas in Spain, workers take their famous siesta in the middle of the day. Based on your work culture, some people may skip their breaks and even eat their lunch at their desk! A little rest from your busy day is important so try to relax from time to time!

Culture shocks can never be avoided. Sometimes you may not be able to know all the answers ahead of time and you might find yourself in a sticky situation. But don’t worry my fellow expats! It’s all about the experiences and all about learning. You’ll get there!

Good luck!



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