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Consulting Tips for Foreign cultures and religions


Don Burleson

Because Burleson Consulting serves clients all over the globe it is important that we take care not to inadvertently offend any verbal, cultural of religious customs.  This page offers tips for avoiding verbal misunderstandings and understanding differences in culture and personal attire.

Note:  In addition to these guidelines, make sure to review our Dress Code, etiquette requirements, Cross-Cultural Guidelines, forum guidelines and obfuscation requirements.

Customs and Personal Attire

Dress and customs are very different in different parts of the world and you can test your knowledge of global cultures at this web page.  For example, in Caribbean and Latin American countries you show respect for a client by avoiding direct eye contact. The US Navy has an excellent page on dealing with Arabic clients.  This link has excellent advice on cultural differences in mannerisms and non-verbal communications:

  • Bowing - shows rank and status in Japan

  • Slouching - Considered rude in most Northern European areas

  • Hands in pocket - disrespectful in Turkey

  • Sitting with legs crossed - offensive in Ghana, Turkey

  • Showing soles of feet. - Offensive in Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Muslim nations

  • Touching - Many Asians don’t touch the head (Head houses the soul and a touch puts it in jeopardy).
      

Eye Contact and touching

  • Western cultures — Westerners see direct eye to eye contact as positive.

  • Arabic cultures make prolonged eye-contact. — They believe it shows interest and helps them understand truthfulness of the other person. (A person who doesn’t reciprocate is seen as untrustworthy)

  • Avoid eye contact to show respect - In Japan, Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean

  • Touching - Islamic and Hindu cultures typically don’t touch with the left hand.  To do so is a social insult.  Left hand is for toilet functions.  It is mannerly in India to break your bread only with your right hand (sometimes difficult for non-Indians)
     

Cultural Dining Tips

There are many social differences across the globe and many customs and terms with which you may not be familiar.  Here are a few dining tip that come to-mind:

  • In England, “Spotted Dick” is a dessert, not a venereal disease
     
  • In Japan, if you are served a small smoked hunk of meat, it’s not meant to be eaten whole.  (Man, they’re crunchy)  It’s a smoked sparrow, and you are supposed to pick the meat off he breast with your chopsticks.
     
  • In the USA, “Rocky Mountain Oysters” are not seafood, they are beef testicles.  If you have the balls, also try ordering the “Sheep Fries” or “Rooster Fries”.  In the southern USA, remember the phrase “It takes guts to order chitlins”.
     
  • In the Upstate New York area, if someone approaches you asking if you want a "speedy", they are not a speed-pusher.  Instead, a "Spiedie" is a delicious shish kebab.
     
  • In the U.K., if you find a large scab on your breakfast plate, it's “Black Pudding”  A blood sausage, served at breakfast, and it goes great with the fired toast and fried tomatoes.
     
  • In France, be aware that an “inhabited cheese” contains living organisms.

Also see our pages on dining abroad, Our most interesting meals.

 
  Spotted Dick
Ask for it by name.
It takes balls to eat testicles. Black Pudding is for breakfast Spiedie's are a New York favorite Mountain Oysters are a low-fat treat

Words, Phrases and Customs

We also see these important social differences, word usage and customs.

  • In the U.K and Ireland, never use the word “tinker” in front of a Gypsy.
     
  • When an Englishman tell you that he has “been a broad”, it does not mean that he has had a sex-change operation (a Strapadictomy).  Instead, it means that he has traveled overseas.
     
  • In the USA, it’s not a good idea to say “niggardly” in mixed company.  Just say “stingy” instead.
     
  • In some European hotels, they will look at you like you are from Mars if you ask them where the “Ice Machine” is located.
     
  • If an British person asks you for a "Fag". He/She is not asking you to assist him/her in finding a same sex partner. He/She is asking for a cigarette.
     
  • In India, some or all of the people shake their head no for yes. In America, they kind of shake their heads back and forth and up and down when they mean yes.
     
  • In areas of the Southern, Midwest and Western areas of the USA, using obscene gestures “flipping the finger” gestures can result in death or serious injury. 
     
  • In French Canada (Quebec), it’s considered very rude not to “try” to speak French.  When in Montreal, just say loudly “I’m from the USA”, so they don’t think that you are a boorish Canadian citizen who did not bother to learn French.
     
  • French hotels have this toilet-like thing called a “Bidet”.  Don’t pee in it, and don’t turn it on unless you are sitting on it.
     
  • In Europe, don’t panic when a vendor says “thank you” before they return your change.  In Europe it’s customary to thank you when they take your money, unlike in the USA where they say “thank you” when giving you your change.
     
  • Meg Trauner notes: In any other Catholic cultures I believe, one cannot mix food with money because a meal is seen as a sacred event.
     

    • Therefore, when you go to a restaurant in Brazil, or Italy, or Portugal, the bill is given to you only after you asked for it. It is an insult to drop out the bill on one's table when the person is still eating and did not ask for it. Therefore, the custom in Brazil is to ask the waiter to come over when you are ready to order. No one would come over and ask "are you guys ready?" if you did not give any hint that you are.
       
    • In U.S., as you know, to maximize the profit and the efficiency, right after you start eating, the bill is dropped on the table so you don't have to wait for the waiter to come over in order to pay the bill. Also, when you get to a restaurant and get the menu, it is also an insult to try to rush you to order.

If you know of any other social customs of confusing vernacular that I have not listed here, I’d sure like to hear from you at info@remote-dba.net.  I’d also love to hear from non-USA people about “funny” customs that you see in the USA.

Cultural Dress Code

When representing Burleson Consulting it is not acceptable to wear any cultural or religious garments that may offend a client.

For example, when in Scotland you may be tempted to show-off your family plaid at a formal event, but this is prohibited when representing Burleson Consulting. 

Despite your pride over your family Tartan, as a Scot you are aware that there are centuries-old feuds between clans, and you family heritage should have no bearing (favorable or otherwise) on your position as a professional consultant.

 Burleson consulting respects the religious beliefs of you and our clients, but our clients come first.  When representing Burleson Consulting it is unacceptable to wear any garments, icons or jewelry that may have overt (or covert) religious, racial, cultural or national connotations that may offend a client.

Religions

It is important to any professional not to advertise your religious affiliations.  For example, when consulting in areas with large Muslim populations, you may not wear customary garments unless you are a practicing member of that religion, and then, only when the attire is consistent with the other tenets of our dress code.

Christian symbols are considered offensive in some countries and great care must be taken to always respect the beliefs and customs of your clients.

Rastafarianism

Many BC clients are Rasta's, and you should familiarize yourself with the Rasta historical background. Please note (from the link above):

  • The philosophy of the Rasta is Freedom of Spirit, Freedom from Slavery, and Freedom of Africa.  Also note that Jamaica is a highly matriarchal society, with men subservient to women.

  • The Rasta religion uses of marijuana as a Sacrament and as an aid to meditation.  Keep this in-mind if you are invited to a worship service.

  • They reject the white man's world, as the new age Babylon of greed and dishonesty.

  • They reject the word Rastafarianism, because they see themselves as having transcended isms and schisms.

Protestant Christians

Some Protestant sects find "idolatry" extremely offensive, and Catholic jewelry with symbols such as the Virgin Mary and Jesus hanging on a cross should not be worn.

Islam

Female consultants working in Islamic countries must be careful to understand the different expectations of women. In the book "Islam Rethought", the author notes:

The sexual and gender inequality, with the inferior statuses, rights, and role of Muslim women in contemporary Muslim societies and cultures, derive directly from the doctrines of inequality of man and woman in the Qur'an, Sunnah, and Islamic Tradition and history.

Also note that some Islamic cultures don’t approve of any touching between men and women (even hand shakes).  However, same-sex touching (including hand holding, hugs) between same-sex people is appropriate, but only for close friends.


Reader Comments:

I liked your article on Consulting cultural religious guidelines, and I
have some suggestions.

In Australia it's not a good idea for non-locals to try Aussie slang
- "G'day" or "crikey" etc (especially in a formal setting such as a work
environment). The exception is of course if one is at a pub and is prepared
to 'practice' and possibly be ridiculed in front of his Australian
friends... :-)

You mention "funny" US customs on your website. In Australia, I suppose
we're just not as patriotic as people are in the US. Hats off and hand on
the heart while singing the national anthem, while a very respectful
gesture for sure, but just isn't practiced here. Americans shouldn't think
that Aussies don't respect their country any less though because they
grumble about standing for the national anthem when asked before a football
match starts :-)

Gavin R. - Australia

"In France, be aware that an “inhabited cheese” contains living organisms."
Be aware that “inhabited cheese” is only an expression meaning "rotted" cheese, sometimes including living organisms.  It is not a French meal you can order in a restaurant.  Please remember : civilization exists outside USA.

Alain Baudier


 

 

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