Cross Cultural Etiquettes

As Big Bang theory humorously depict, a lot of my Indian friends (including myself) are awkward in the presence of girls. A friend of mine who is unfamiliar with this phenomenon once remarked… You guys are so cold when I first met you. How can you call yourself close friends when you greet me with a distant hi or a formal handshake?

On the other hand an Indian friend of mine was recently offended when someone tried to greet her in the European way.

However these extremes examples apart, what I have observed are that people are much more accommodating while interacting with other cultures. For example parents of one of my friend demand that, at least in the first meeting, their daughter’s friends greet them formally. However a Columbian friend of mine greeted the same parents in a very casual and informal manner and they were cool about it.

This is probably because while interacting with people from other cultures, most people are very accommodating. Unless the person has a predetermined bias, they tend to take time in knowing the person before even forming the first opinion about him/her. Even after that the person is judged not on the basis of his actions but on the basis of their intention. This is a luxury that often people don’t give to someone from their own culture.

However it does not mean that one should not spend time in understanding and learning different cultures. In many high context societies there could be a stark difference between the verbatim and the literal meaning of any word or action. Hence often unknowingly one tends interpret the gestures, facial expressions and actions of others in accordance to the unwritten but widely accepted standards of their own culture. This is very true during courtship and dating where often things go so fast that the poor guy does not even realize what he did before it’s all over.

Sometimes even if you spend a lot of time in understanding and conforming to the etiquettes, your preparation is wasted when you meet someone whose parents are from 2 different cultures or someone who is not well integrated into the culture of region where you first met.

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