Guest Blogger: Reflections on Cross Cultural Differences

Suellen Zima My posts on Hong Kong manners attracted far more interest than I had expected.

In addition to the many comments on politeness in Hong Kong versus other cities, one  frequent traveler was inspired to reflect on her own experiences traveling and living in such countries as China and Israel.

Suellen Zima has traveled widely. She is author of the award winning autobiography, Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird. She also publishes an insightful blog entitled Follow the Senior Hummingbird, in which she wanders, wonders, and writes.

. . . . . . . . . .

On some very basic level, people are the same. 

However, there are endless cultural variations on proper manners. 

Coping with those differences makes traveling challenging and interesting. 

When I first went to China in 1988, tour books warned about the Chinese habit of spitting noisily and often in the streets, as well as on restaurant floors (carpeting was only in expensive, fancy restaurants). 

Train Manners

Getting OUT of a train in China wasn’t easy because the crush of people coming on the train pushed back those wanting to get out. 

On a short trip arranged for foreign teachers, one of the teachers literally banged upon the chest of a Chinese man trying to get on the train while yelling in English, “Why do you people act like this?” 

The startled Chinese crowd looked at her like she was crazy. 

When KFC (that’s Kentucky Fried Chicken to those of you that are acronymically challenged) started to become popular in China, plastic gloves were served with the fried chicken because Chinese people were not used to eating anything with their hands. 

My Chinese friends picked up cookies with chopsticks and had no idea how to eat a sandwich.

Politeness with Ethiopian Characteristics

When I ate in the homes of Ethiopian families, my hand was the accepted eating utensil. 

It was usually the responsibility of the children in the family to be sure that the glasses of guests were continuously filled to the brim. 

In the Israeli-Arab town I lived in, hospitality demanded that I always be given food.  I had been brought up in the American custom of not leaving any food on my plate.  However, in the Arab culture, an empty plate must be re-filled.  I eventually learned the only way to stop the never-ending food was to leave some food on my plate.

When You’re Smiling …

In the American culture, smiling at strangers is considered to be friendly.  But, to the Chinese, smiles and kind words are for family members and friends, not for unknown strangers passing by.

When you’re a traveler, keep your eyes open to pick up the “right” manners for where you are at the time. 

Good manners change with the cultures.

Accidental Travel Writer Responds

Thanks, Suellen, for your very interesting comments on cross cultural differences.

Regarding the American custom of finishing everything on your plate (as opposed to the European custom of leaving something for Mr Manners), I’ve heard that this concept of waste not, want not, could have something to do with the American obesity epidemic.

As children we were taught not to waste food because there were starving children in Europe. I could never figure out how my finishing my broccoli would help the starving children in Europe.

But I’m sure that nobody says that these days. I don’t think there are any starving people in Europe any more.

Customs vary, I guess – not just from culture to culture, but also from generation to generation!

More Reader Feedback to Follow

To read the original post, please click on the following link.

Aussie Tourist Blasts Hong Kong Manners, Says, ‘I Shall Not Return!’

For more on Suellen Zima, please click on the following link.

Senior Hummingbird

To check out Suellen’s blog, please click on the following link.

Follow the Senior Hummingbird

To check out Suellen’s award winning autobiography, please click on the following link.

Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird

To read the original post, please click on the following link.

Aussie Tourist Blasts Hong Kong Manners, Says, ‘I Shall Not Return!’



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