Manners And Verbal Expressions Across Cultures
Manners And Verbal Expressions Across Cultures
Norine Dresser (Writer) gives expert video advice on: When is it OK to call people by their first names?; Why should I be careful about complimenting babies? and more...
When is it OK to call people by their first names?
It's better not to call people by their first names unless you know them quite well. Air on the side of formality. In Asian cultures and in Middle Eastern cultures when you address someone you make known the relationship. There was a Chinese girl and her boyfriend was from Hong Kong and so was she, but she had forgotten all about it, and there was a dinner that she was invited to, to meet all the family and his family was very offended because she called Paul's sister by her first name, Christine, and she should have said Paul's sister. And we go Auntie, everybody's Auntie. In many cultures that's always a safe title. Once my daughter had a friend who was Palestinian, and when she called here she would always call on the phone and say Hello Amy's mother, and I thought gosh she doesn't even know my name. I really had such a negative view of her, but she was being polite. She was describing the relationships and that's very commonplace in Asian cultures.
How do naming traditions differ among cultures?
Naming traditions are tricky. For example, a Latino child, particularly from Mexico, will have what we call the first name, the second name will be the name of his father's family and the third name will be the name of his mother's family. There's never enough room on the computer generated list, so they just cut directly to the last name, which is usually the mother's name. Where, in fact, they would rather be know by their father's name, but because there's no room, they assume like in American tradition that it's the first name and then the last name. Middle name you get rid of. In many Asian cultures, the name that appears first is the family name, not the last name, the one that's last in sequence, so it's quite confusing. And in many cultures the woman does not take her husband's name.
Which words or phrases might be confusing to another culture?
The whole thing about multi-culture manners is it has to do with assumptions. We just make wrong assumptions all the time, it's very hard for Americans to speak without using idiomatic expressions. We use them so common place, we don't realize how we are confusing non-native English speakers. One person was applying for a job and they said, "Can you work the graveyard shift? "The graveyard shift? No way!" We have to be very careful to remember, the honus is not just on us, it's really the biggest challenge to the non-native speaker. Sometimes we have to remember, "How's it going?" the student though, "My house is not going." "What's up?" "What are they referring to?" We have to be careful, I would say it's probably impossible to go through an entire day or half a day without utilizing an idiomatic expression. That's what's difficult about learning other languages too, they say something and you look it up in the dictionary and it's not there.
Why should I be careful when complimenting or praising people of different cultures?
I talked to a woman who worked in a hospital and she wanted to promote a woman who was a Filipina to a higher position and the woman turned her down. And the reason was, although it was a compliment to her skills, if she would be promoted it would change the social dynamics among her peers. And so that ultimately would not work in her favour. Complimenting also calls attention to someone, and this is particularly applicable to Asian cultures. For us, we are very individualistic and very competitive but cultures that are more community oriented, it doesn't work out well. If a person is complimented for doing something well it may be that that person thinks, "Well, gee wasn't I doing well before?" There's a whole different take on it. One man was telling me that he was working in Indonesia and in front of everyone he complimented his assistant, who was an Indonesian and then the next day the young man quit because it made him lose face and he regarded it as an untenable position.
Why should I be careful about complimenting babies?
It's a pretty widespread notion that you don't compliment a baby, and to make sure that you don't compliment the baby in Indian cultures ... I'm talking about India ... they put a mark on the baby's forehead to remind you not to compliment the baby.
Why can it seem that people from other cultures don't say what they mean?
Some people say “yes” when they really mean “no” and I found that out the hard way when I was a teacher. At the end of the class I would say “Do you understand what I mean?” and they would all nod their heads and say “yes” and then they'd turn in their papers and then it was very clear that they did not understand what I meant. And so I had to learn to change my style of asking questions. They're in our country now let them learn our ways. No, my main objective is to teach my students. So if it means that I have to phrase my question in another way in order to accomplish my goal of being an effective teacher, then instead of saying "does everybody understand?" I learned to say "tell me what you don't understand". All the hands went up. What confuses you? All the hands went up. Why was this? Because most of my students were from Asian and in Asian cultures and in some other places, but particularly in Asian cultures, people will say “yes” because they know that is what you want to hear. To say “no”, if I said to my students does everybody understand and they were to say no, then that would be casting a bad shadow on my reputation, it would mean I was not a good teacher. They said what they knew I wanted to hear. So open-ended questions were much better, you get the true answer. It's like if you're talking to Japanese, they go “Hai”, whatever you say, “Hai”. It doesn't mean “yes”, it means I hear you. Sometimes even nodding from other cultures does not means “yes” it just means I understand what you are saying, but it's not a yes and you have to be very careful about such things. In hospital situations, health care system, asking yes/no questions, which we tend to do, it's a very American direct way of communication will not always get us satisfactory answers, it will not really get us to the truth. We have to turn those questions into open-ended ones which is very hard to do, you have to think hard to avoid yes/no questions.