Visiting China …
Don’t Blow Your Nose
By Bob & Sandy Nesoff
Foreign visitors to the United States are often treated to a courtesy that Americans abroad often do not receive. While Americans will generally look the other way when a foreign guest “violates” the norm, the “Ugly American” syndrome all too often comes into effect overseas.
American are for the most part the friendliest and most outgoing people in the world. When meeting a visitor to the United States they are effusive, handshaking and hugging of people. They will accept the Japanese who are far more formal, the Arabs who decline to shake hands with a woman and the French who immediately proceed to kiss on both cheeks.
And while Americans tend to look the other way when a foreign visitor commits a social faux pas, on home ground the foreigners are more likely to be offended.
These are the norms in their countries and are not meant to be offensive. But if an American visiting China, France, Japan and Saudi Arabia has a head cold and feels the need to engage in nose blowing, be aware that you could be offending residents of those countries.
Natives of those nations consider it to be a disgusting act to blow your nose in public. Should you be in Japan and use a handkerchief it is even more objectionable as they feel you should use a one-time tissue. They don’t indicate how you should dispose of it after use.
In most of the Arab countries when men are introduced to each other a slight bow of the head is considered respectful. Never (repeat-never) offer your right hand to shake. That could not only endanger a multi-million dollar business deal but could be cause for an international incident if you are a government representative.
Arabs consider the right hand to be “unclean” as that is the hand they use to cleanse themselves after using a commode.
In Western culture offering the right hand was a means of not only showing friendship, but indicating that no aggression was intended as swords and other weapons were generally held in that hand.
While Americans tend sometimes to be over casual in their dress, some things are just not accepted in other countries. Wearing of track suits, sweatpants and shorts on urban streets is a no-no inmost of Europe and other continents. That would probably be more than welcome on New York’s Broadway as well.
Women with an oversized seating capacity in stretch pants and men with hairy, scraggly legs in shorts are truly a put-off no matter the country. And, by the way, ditch the flip flops.
Hand signals may be terrific on the baseball diamond when a catcher is telling the pitcher what to throw. But be awfully careful when flashing a thumbs up sign in some parts of Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Most residents there consider it to be the equivalent of saluting with the middle finger.
The “thumbs up” sign here simply means good job. In many other parts of the developed and undeveloped world you could be in for a whole lot of grief. There’s that damned middle finger equivalent again.
Anyone who saw the movie “The Darkest Hour,” may have noted Winston Churchill flashing what he thought to be the “V” for Victory signal using his index and middle fingers.
Ooops. Even Winnie could commit a faux pas. Flashing the “V” with the palm facing away from you means victory. With the palm facing you…well that’s the middle finger equivalent again.
Those foreigners have so many ways to tell you what you can go do to yourself.
In American a birthday, anniversary, baby shower or other event that traditionally brings many wrapped gifts in this country means that you open them in front of everyone to share the happiness. Try that in China or other Asian nations and you will be considered gauche.
First, it is customary to decline a gift anywhere form one to three times before accepting it. The gift giver will continue to insist that you take the proffered item. Then you must never open the item in from of the giver or any gathering. Gifts in those nations must only be opened in private.
Conversationalists here will often become personal without being offensive. Not always, but often. In other countries asking personal questions is a non-starter. Never ask a casual acquaintance what he or she does. They consider it to be none of your damn business.
And while English is considered one of the official languages in world diplomacy, not every one speaks it and you should never assume that they do. Learn a few words or phrases of the country you are visiting and you’ll see how appreciated that is.
Some time back on the island of Palma de Majorca in Spain an American couple was navigating the pictures on a menu trying to decide what to order. That was a very courteous method the restaurant used to assist foreigners.
While they were looking at the menu another diner came over and, speaking German, asked a question. When the American indicated he didn’t understand, the German spoke louder. That continued until the Hun was almost screaming as though that would make him understood.
He finally threw his hands up in disgust and walked away. The American turned to his wife and said: “Look at that. We’re both guests in someone else’s country and he’s made because we don’t understand his language.”
A personal note: We don’t usually write in the First Person but a comment here requires it. When our three daughters were youngster and we were able to take them on trips to foreign countries, we would take books from the libraries on the destinations we were headed to. The girls were told to read the books and then at dinner each would tell us something about our destination, its culture, history and customs. We all learned something, had a terrific visit and did not offend anyone. Try it, you’ll like it.