Chapter 15

Crossing the Cultural Divide

In This Chapter

arrowUnderstanding different cultures

arrowAbiding by status-based conventions

arrowExamining problematic gestures

arrowPlaying by the rules to avoid offence

With businesses spanning the globe, students travelling the world and the media bringing foreign lands into people’s homes on a daily basis, no group can any longer believe in the infallibility of its own customs and culture. As the singer/songwriter Paul Simon says, ‘One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor’. In spite of the ‘shrinking’ world, or perhaps because of it, people are holding on to their cultural customs and traditions with a mixture of pride, fear, and determination. Behaviours as simple as counting on your fingers, walking along the street and shaking hands vary widely across the globe.

When you know the rules that govern behaviour in cultures other than your own, you can avoid making major mistakes that, in addition to insulting your host, may lead to a diplomatic crisis – or at least an awkward situation. A huge number of countries, cultures and customs exist in the world and ...

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