Cross-cultural manners and intercultural communication have become critical elements required for all businesses and organizations. The rest of the world isn’t as far away as it used to be. Information and people are flowing across international boundaries. Culture influences our behaviour in countless ways, subconsciously guiding our actions, reactions and interactions at workplaces and in social settings. What might be perfectly acceptable in one country might be totally taboo in another.
In 2014, SOICS monthly newsletter was revamped to include a “Cultural Etiquettes” section and has received a number of positive comments from several service providers. These articles compile the do’s and don’ts involving greetings, dining, gifts, meetings, general behavioural guidelines, body language, and gestures.
New immigrants to Canada face a number of barriers integrating into Canadian Society. Finding meaningful employment is the number one priority for new Canadians. Making immigrants aware of Canadian norms, expectations and etiquette and educating Canadian employers about culture differences will ease the transition for everyone.
Body Language and what it means around the world
Body language or non-verbal communication is an important way of “speaking” or sending a message without actually talking. People in different parts of the world communicate different messages with their body language and it is important to recognize how different cultures interpret it.
Head: In most countries, a nodding head (up & down) signifies agreement or approval. But in other cultures like Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey a nodding head means “no”. In most Asian cultures, the head is where the spirit resides and one shouldn’t touch another’s head.
Face/Smiling: Facial expressions reflect emotions, feelings and attitudes. While smiling and reflecting happy feelings and emotions are valued in Canada, a smile can be interpreted differently in the Far East. Smiling can actually mean that they don’t understand something and can be a cover-up for embarrassment.
Arms: Some cultures like the Italians use their arms freely. Others like the Japanese are more reserved and it is considered impolite to gesture with broad arm movements. In Canada, crossing your arms can be interpreted as someone being defensive, unreceptive or closed off.
Legs and Feet: Sitting cross-legged is common in Canada and some European countries but it is viewed as disrespectful in Asia and the Middle East. Pointing the sole of your feet at another person while sitting cross-legged in these countries is considered to be a very rude gesture.
Becoming sensitive and aware of cultural differences in body language can help us to communicate more effectively and help us to avoid embarrassing and potentially difficult situations. So remember, don’t slouch, don’t’ cross your arms and be careful where you’re pointing your feet in your next job interview in Canada!
Sources: Online Academic Advising Resources
Christmas Celebrations around the world vary in tradition and importance. A holiday recognized around the globe and celebrated at various dates beginning as early as November and lasting in the first week of January, Christmas means many different things to many different people. Every country has something special to offer and celebrates this festive occasion a little differently. Around the globe this holiday has special meaning and different menus, but one thing is certain; it’s celebrated with much reverence and faith. Nonetheless, the common theme that runs throughout all countries and cultures is that it is time of giving and a time for families to come together to share.
In China, approximately 1% of people are Christians, so most people only know a few things about Christmas. Because of this, Christmas is only often celebrated in major cities. In Chinese, Merry Christmas is “Sheng Dan Kuai Le” in Mandarin and ‘Seng Dan Fai Lok” in Cantonese. Oddly enough, most of the world’s plastic Christmas Trees and decorations are made in China but the people making them probably don’t know what they are used for! A new tradition that’s becoming popular, on Christmas Eve, is giving apples.
In Pakistan, December 25th is a public holiday, but it is in memory of Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Pakistan Santa Claus/Father Christmas is known as ‘Christmas Baba” and people greet each other by saying “Bara Din Mubarrak Ho”, which means, ‘the blessing of Christmas on you’. During the last week of Advent, carol singing is performed by various groups going from house to house singing carols for charity. In the big Christian areas, each house is decorated with a star on the roof and the streets are also decorated.
A big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany is Advent. Several different types of Advent calendars are used in German homes. As well as the traditional one made of card that are used in many countries, there are ones made out of a wreath of Fir tree branches with 24 decorated boxes or bags hanging from it. Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange presents with their families. In German Merry Christmas is ‘Frohe Weihnachten’.
The Philippines has one of the longest holiday seasons in the world, starting in September and ending around January 9th. Christmas plays, parties, and decorations are in full swing throughout these months. The formal Christmas celebrations start on 16th December when many people go to the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses. There are nine night Masses (known as Simbang Gabi) leading up to Christmas Day. The belief is that, if you attend all the Masses, you will get a wish granted in the upcoming year. The Christmas celebrations continue to the First Sunday in January when Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings is celebrated.
Christmas in Ukraine and Russia is celebrated on the 7th January is because, like many countries where the main Church is the Orthodox Church, they use the old ‘Julian’ calendar for recognizing religious holidays and festivals. Advent is celebrated for 40 days of fasting, from November 28th through to January 6th. The main Christmas meal, called ‘Sviata Vecheria’ (or Holy Supper) is eaten on Christmas Eve (6th January). Traditionally people fast (don’t eat anything) all day but you might start the day drinking some holy water that has been blessed at church.
During the Christmas season in Ukraine, people usually hide a spider inside their Christmas tree (or even decorate their tree with spider webs). The tradition stems from an old legend about a widow who was too poor to decorate a tree. On Christmas morning, her family discovered that a spider spun its web around the tree, and that the threads had turned to silver and gold. Today, the person who finds the hidden spider is to have good luck.
Many Brazilian Christmas traditions come from Portugal as Portugal ruled Brazil for many years. Nativity Scenes known as Presépio are very popular. They are set-up in churches and homes all through December. Christmas plays called Os Pastores (The Shepherds), like the plays in Mexico are also popular. Most people, especially Catholics, will go to a Midnight Mass service or Missa do Galo (Mass of the Roster). After the Missa do Gallo there are often big firework displays and in big towns and cities there are big Christmas Tree shaped displays of electric lights.
Celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, India’s Christmas celebration is known for celebrating diversity and unity. The holiday is celebrated with firecrackers and the purchasing of new clothes and shoes on Christmas Eve. Traditional pine trees are tough to find, so mango or banana trees are decorated in garlands made of palm fronds with small stones and dolls, or are painted gold. Churches are filled with red flowers and small burning oil lamps are used as Christmas decorations.
When it comes to Christmas in Japan, Colonel Sanders wears the red suit. Although Christmas is not a national holiday, Kentucky Fried Chicken is the Christmas meal of choice on the big day, thanks to the “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!”(Kentucky for Christmas) campaign back in 1974. The fast-food chain is so popular during the holiday season that they have a special Christmas countdown on their website and recommend customers to place their orders two months in advance!
Christmas in Mexico begins on December 12th and lasts until January 6th. Beginning on the 16th through to Christmas Eve, small children usually perform the ‘Posada’ (Posada is Spanish for Inn or Lodging) as this ritual symbolizes Joseph and Mary needing a room at an inn. Family members cut intricate designs in brown paper bags to make lanterns, or farolitos. They place a candle inside and then set the farolitos along sidewalks, on windowsills, and on rooftops and outdoor walls to illuminate the community with the spirit of Christmas. It’s tradition to eat a special cake called, ‘Rosca de Reyes’ to symbolize the Three Kings leaving gifts at Epiphany on January 6th. Merry Christmas translates into ‘Feliz Navidad.’
One of Ireland’s many traditions is placing a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve to welcome Mary and Joseph in their biblical search for an inn. And instead of a glass of milk and cookies, Irish children leave mince pies and a bottle of Guinness as a snack for Santa.
Christmas comes in the summer in South Africa because it’s in the Southern Hemisphere. Since schools are closed for the holidays, many people spend the Christmas vacation camping.
When you are in the West Indies, Christmas is a festive celebration worthy of dressing up for masquerade parades in a carnival-like fashion.
Christmas Around the World
12 Christmas Traditions Around the World
Christmas Around the World
The delivery of healthcare services is a crucial and potentially life saving process that all newcomers to Canada are involved with and receive. Health beliefs can have a profound impact on the clinical care of patients affecting the accuracy of health histories and compliance with treatment recommendations from Western providers. Knowledge of cultural customs enables health care providers to offer better care and help avoid misunderstandings.
- Some culture emphasizes loyalty to family and devotion to traditions and places less emphasis on individual feelings. For women of Hispanic and South East Asian heritage, it is customary to involve family members in all medical and personal decisions. For this reason, many family members expect to be involved in any consultation and decision making process. In patriarchal society oldest male may take on decision-making role for other patients
- Agreement and disagreement is expressed differently across cultures both verbally and non-verbally. Nodding does not necessarily indicate agreement or even understanding of medical facts. Patient may be reluctant to say “no” to a doctor or health care provider because it may be considered disrespectful. Another approach of showing respect to authority figures is by avoiding eye contact.
- Be aware of the importance of family members serving in caregiver roles and consider extending visiting hours
- Bad medical news is often shielded from the patient by the family in the belief that telling the patient will only make the patient’s condition worse
- For many cultures religious and spiritual beliefs play an important and powerful role in their treatment and recovery. They believe that traditional healing practices including spiritual and mental healing methods are crucial in their recovery and don’t believe that they will fully recover without them being considered
- In Chinese culture, health is viewed as finding harmony between complementary energies called yin and yang. Patient may use foods and herbs to restore yin/yang balance. In addition to special foods, patient may use other traditional Chinese remedies as an initial approach for healing, especially during the early stages of illness. Some traditional Chinese therapies, including massage and acupuncture are commonly used as an adjunct to western medicine
- Hindus may use a variety of Ayurvedic medicines, home remedies and spiritual remedies, often in conjunction with western medicine. Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine and is a highly valued and respected health science in India
- Many Asian and Muslim women may feel uncomfortable wearing hospital attire because of cultural beliefs about modesty and dress. Touching private parts of the body may also be deemed disrespectful or insulting for a female patient, especially if by a male health care provider. Whenever possible, health care staff should be gender matched with the patient.
- Many Hindus hold strong astrological beliefs and may believe the movement of the planets has a strong influence on health and wellbeing. Patients may wish to schedule appointments or surgeries according to these beliefs.
- Chinese, especially the elderly, are hesitant to give blood because they believe that blood taken from the body will never be replenished
- Certain cultures and ethnic groups also include specific dietary regulations relating to their health needs. Many Hindus and Sikhs are strict vegetarians, abstaining from all meat, fish and eggs. Vegetarian Hindus do consume dairy products. Hindus who choose to follow a vegetarian diet do so because of a belief in nonviolence, which extends to animals, and a belief that non-vegetarian food impedes spiritual development. Most non-vegetarian Hindus don’t eat beef or pork, as cows are considered sacred and pigs are considered unclean.
Clearly the delivery of healthcare services to newcomers/immigrants is not as straightforward as it is with English speaking native born Canadians that grew up under the Canadian health care system. Given this, healthcare practitioners are encouraged to exercise some degree of cultural sensitivity and understanding when caring for this diverse population. Immigrants should also realize that treatment and standards might not be the same as it is in the country where they emigrated from and take this into consideration when accessing healthcare services.
- Tips and strategies for Culturally Sensitive Care, refugeehealth.org
- ACOG, www.acog.org
- Journal of Medical Ethics, jme.bmj.com
- Religious Diversity: Practical Points for Health Care Providers http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/pastoral/resed/diversity_points.html
- Communicating with Chinese Pateients
The role of eye contact in different cultures
Eye contact may be one of the most subtle forms of social interaction but it should never be underestimated. The UK, USA, Australia and Western Europe all have fairly similar social expectations of when and where eye contact is appropriate… which is most of the time!
Eye contact is expected in Western Culture and is a basic essential to a social interaction, which shows a person’s interest and engagement. It is especially important to make eye contact in an interview with an employer. If someone doesn’t make eye contact in Canada it may be considered insulting, shows disinterest or is seen as a lack of confidence.
The role of eye contact in different cultures varies greatly, however. In countries such as China and Japan, eye contact is not considered an essential to social interaction and is often considered inappropriate. It is believed that subordinates shouldn’t make steady eye contact with their superiors and can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect.
In Latin America, intense eye contact is seen as aggressive, confrontational and disrespectful.
In African cultures, extended eye contact can be taken as an affront or a challenge authority.
Eye contact in Middle Eastern cultures is considered less appropriate than in Western Cultures and there are strict gender rules. For example, women shouldn’t make too much eye contact with men as it could be misconstrued as a romantic interest.
In many of these cultures, you should be aware of what kind of eye contact you can initiate with those who are your social superiors or who have authority over you, so that you are not considered disrespectful or overly bold. For all of those job seekers in the Okanagan, look the Interviewer squarely in the eye in your next interview and good things are bound to happen.
Sources: Online Travel Tips/Eye Contact Culture
Gift Giving around the world
Understanding gift giving and the etiquette surrounding it can help us strengthen relationships with immigrant colleagues, clients or customers. Cross-cultural gift giving etiquette involves considering what is the protocol associated with gift giving and receiving?
In many countries such as in North America or the UK, gift giving is rare in the business world. In fact, it may carry negative connotations as gift giving could be construed as bribery. However, in many other countries, gift giving and its etiquette have a central place in business practices.
In Japanese culture, offering a gift with both hands is essential. Offering a gift one-handed in considered a half-hearted effort. Always remember to wrap the gift, even if it is something small. When receiving a gift-wrapped present, it is impolite to open it immediately. Only in some cases is it ok to open a present right away, but even then you must ask permission first.
In China, gifts are an important way of building personal and professional relationships. Chinese etiquette requires that a person decline a gift, invitation, and other offerings two or three times before accepting. It is expected that the giver will persist, gently, until the gift is accepted.
If you are invited to a French, German or Greek home, bring flowers, quality chocolates or liqueur to the hostess, and present your gift before the entertaining proceeds. When invited to a Muslim home, a male should not be extending gifts of any kind to their female hostess.
Avoid giving a gift made of leather to someone who is Hindu. Also, don’t give a gift made of pigskin or an alcoholic beverage to someone who is Muslim. Don’t give or accept a gift with your left hand, it is considered impolite.
In China, the colours black and white should be avoided when gift giving, as well as the numbers four and nine, as they are believed to be unlucky. Don’t wrap a gift in black, blue, or green for a friend or colleague who originates from Thailand as these are the colors used at funerals, and are associated with mourning.
Hand Gestures Around the World
Simple hand gestures like making an “OK “sign, “V” for Peace or Victory or even a “thumbs up” sign with your thumb and fingers have very different meanings in different countries around the world. In Canada and the United States, we consider these little hand gestures to be innocent signs of approval. In other parts of the world, however, these gestures can have very different connotations.
In Australia, Argentina, Greece and the Middle East, giving the thumbs up gesture is considered rude/obscene and basically means “Up Yours”. Making the V sign in Australia is also considered to be a vulgar gesture. If you hit the palm of your left hand with your right fist in Argentina, you are indicating that you don’t believe what the other person is saying and consider their comments to be stupid.
The Chinese always point with an open hand. Pointing at someone with an index finger is considered offensive and is only used to summon animals. Colombians also consider it demeaning to beckon someone with your index finger. Crossing your fingers, as we would in the US and Canada to wish for luck, in Vietnam is a definite no-no as it is said to resemble a woman’s genitalia.
Who knew that what North Americans consider to be simple signs of approval or appreciation could have such negative meanings around the world. A good “rule of thumb” when dealing with people from other parts of the world, pay careful attention to what you’re doing with your hands!
Sources: Mail Online, “ 18 Gestures Around the World”
Handshake etiquettes around the world
First impressions mean everything, especially in an interview and most of the time they start with a handshake. In Canada, a firm handshake is a sign of confidence and conveys trust and respect. It differs in other countries however, and in some countries a weak handshake is actually preferred!
- In Russia, a handshake is rarely performed by opposite sexes and men shaking hands with women can be considered impolite.
- In the Middle East, handshakes are not as firm as in Canada and a handshake that is too firm will be considered as rude.
- In Japan, China and the Phillipines, a weak handshake is preferred and people will often hold on to each other’s hands longer than in Canada
- In India, the Namaste gesture combined with a slight bow is used in place of handshakes.
- In Brazil, expect a firm handshake that lasts longer than in Canada and strong eye contact.
- In Mexico, expect a long lasting handshake and if you are a male maybe a hug. Women may kiss each other on the cheeks.
- In Thailand, never shake hands! The person will offer a “wai”, which is placing their palms together at chest level and bowing.
Interesting Fact: Handshakes are known to spread countless germs and a study has found that “fist pumps” and “high fives” spread less germs than handshakes.
Handshakes are still the norm in Canada in job interviews though, so don’t be “high fiving” your employer just yet!
Sources: Wikipedia & Mentalfloss.com
Negotiating around the world
Culture profoundly influences how people think, communicate and ultimately reach decisions around the world. Cultural differences can create negotiating barriers so it is crucial that people take into account these differences when sitting down at the bargaining table. If you don’t take the time to familiarize yourself with local customs and business etiquette, it could mean the difference between success and failure.
Germans typically have a more formal negotiating style than Canadians and insist on addressing counterparts by formal titles and avoid small talk. Humour is definitely not appreciated in a German business context.
For a Canadian, addressing someone by his or her first name is considered an act of friendship and is thought to be a good thing. For the Japanese, however, use of the first name at an early stage of negotiations is considered disrespectful.
Methods of communicating can also vary between cultures. Canadians, Americans and Israelis prefer a more direct and clear “businesslike” approach when negotiating while Egyptians and Japanese rely more on indirect communication techniques, which can lead to misunderstandings. Chinese are generally less comfortable asking questions, disclosing information, clarifying specific points or engaging in intensive debate than their Western counterparts. Therefore try to avoid bombarding them with numerous questions.
Indians and the Japanese avoid saying, “no” in negotiations and opt for using terms like, “we’ll see” or “possibly.” On the other hand, the Chinese may shut off completely, and leave you empty-handed.
The amount of time that it takes to make decisions varies among cultures. For Canadians and Americans, “time is money” so they tend to get down to business and attempt to make decisions or close deals quickly. Asians’ goal is to first create good relationships and they need to invest time in the negotiating process. (Always allow a Chinese counterpart to leave the meeting first). Indian and Latin cultures have a low sensitivity to time and value the process as much as the outcome.
Some cultures prefer making decisions by “committee” while others prefer dealing with a single person or defined leader. In Japan, the most senior person usually leads discussions and others take a secondary role out of respect.
Clearly, intercultural decision-making is a complicated and delicate matter and a process that is not a clear cut, as it seems. There is more to closing a deal than merely signing a contract. Okanagan businesses that deal with international customers and clients would be well advised to take their time and not rush the negotiating process. Build a solid relationship and good things will follow.
Sources: Ivey Business Journal, Business Insider.
Time in different cultures
Often it is difficult to understand how those from other ethnicities perceive Canadian culture, customs, and way of life. Similarly we in Canada have to understand that not everyone in the world views the concept of time in the same way. In fact, some cultures don’t even make time a part of their lives. There are different interpretations on being on time. What one culture considers being on time, another might consider it as being late. Each culture, to some extent, views time differently, and these different views do have an impact on organizational behavior, especially when our workforce is becoming more and more diverse.
In most developed countries around the world it is crucial to be on time for business appointments, meetings/work and being punctual is highly regarded.
In Canada and the United States, it is believed that a person who cannot keep appointments on time, cannot keep scheduled commitments or cannot stick to a schedule cannot be trusted and shows a lack of respect for others. If you are late for a job interview in Canada, and you don’t have a very good reason, your chances of being hired are slim. And as strict as North Americans are in regard to time, the Japanese and Germans are even stricter.
On the other hand, being late for an appointment or taking a long time to get down to business in most Mediterranean and Arab countries is the norm. Each meeting in Arab countries is treated as an opportunity for relationship building and will generally take more time than expected. In many African and South American countries, scheduled appointments are often treated like a general “guideline” rather than something that one has to strictly abide by. In Ghana, being 2-3 hours late for an appointment is routine and even considered to be “on time”. Mexicans have many traits to admire: their enterprise, their ability to make do, to endure and to enjoy life. Punctuality, though, is nowhere on the list for most of them.
In general, wherever you are in the world, it is a good policy to always be punctual and then adjust to the cultural norms of the country over time. It might also ensure that you make your next flight!
Sources: The American Genius, agbeat.com & www.andersoninstitute.com
The Internet, smart phones, tablets, Facebook, YouTube – you name it, the world is more connected and “tuned in” than ever before in history. Every event, no matter how inconsequential or insignificant, can be photographed, videotaped, recorded and uploaded in mere minutes. All this technology has the potential to affect our personal and professional lives in either a positive or negative way.
According to data from the 2014 social recruiting survey 93% of hiring managers review a candidate’s social profile before making a hiring decision. Companies also browse your social media profiles to evaluate your character and personality. About two-thirds of recruiters use social media, specifically Facebook to vet candidates before or after an interview. Employers aren’t limiting themselves to social networks when it comes to researching candidates’ web presences. 45% of employers use search engines such as Google to research potential job candidates.
Employers are less likely to interview applicants they can’t find online, according to annual CareerBuilder social media recruitment survey. The majority of employers now use social networks to screen candidates - 35 percent of employers who screen via social networks have sent friend requests or followed candidates that have private accounts; most are granted permission.
The most common reasons to pass on a job candidate include:
- provocative or inappropriate photographs or information
- posted information about them drinking or using drugs
- bad-mouthed their previous company or fellow employee or shared confidential information from previous employers
- discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion etc.
- linkage to criminal behaviour
- screen name was unprofessional
- lied about an absence
- poor writing and bad grammar in Facebook profiles and in blog entries can raise a red flag about communication skills
Candidates are encouraged to watch what they post. Employers shared the strangest things they’ve discovered on job candidates’ or current employees’ social media profiles, including
- a photo of a warrant for his arrest
- use of profanities
- bragging about driving drunk and not getting caught on several occasions
- posting of her dental exam results, etc.
Recently in Kelowna a lady was fired from her job because she had posted some negative comments about her employer on her public Facebook (FB) account. Many companies now routinely screen potential employees by reviewing their public FB and Twitter accounts. If they see something that reveals negative traits or potential risk factors for their company, they are fired. The fact that a FB comment is 4-5 years old is irrelevant. Once hired, employees should be aware that many companies also monitor their online activities at work, mainly to see if that person is spending too much time on social media sites when they should be working.
Jobvite Annual Social Recruiting Survey
The 7 Social Media Mistakes Most Likely to Cost you a Job
Castanet Online article, “Facebook Post Costs Job”, November 3/15
To date, there are 11 Syrian refugee families that call the South Okanagan their home. Many Canadians are proud of the contribution that our country has made to accommodate these newcomers and are anxious to help in any way that they can. To better assist Syrians adapt to their new surroundings, it is important to know a little about their culture and social norms.
The Syrian dialect is very similar to Jordanian, Palestinian, and Egyptian dialect sharing with them a very similar grammar and vocabulary.
Syrian population is relatively well educated, and quite young, with a median age of 22. It is estimated that almost 60% of Syrians lived in urban areas before the fighting caused massive displacement. Many resettled Syrians will have a basic knowledge of English, but only a small number will be proficient in the language. Those who have studied a Roman alphabet-based language (for example, French or German) will learn to read and write English more easily than those who can read and write only Arabic.
Greetings hold great social significance. They are often lengthy, including questions about health.
Men and women (men-men and women-women it is not acceptable to men shake women hands and conversely) both shake hands but close friends and family members usually kiss once on each cheek.
Physical contact between unrelated men and women is very uncommon and it is offensive for religiously observant men to touch women and vice versa. Placing the right hand on the heart when meeting someone, or an opposite gender, is a signal of regard and/or affection. Syrians are very affectionate people. Men walk linking arms or holding hands and hug a great deal, as do women. Close physical contact in public is more common between people of the same gender than it is between girlfriend and boyfriend or husband and wife.
Syrians identify very strongly with their families, both immediate and extended. Families are generally large and include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Among family members, there are close bonds of love and support as well as responsibility and supervision. Family reputation is as important as individual freedom. Children are highly valued as a blessing from God. The more children one has, the more fortunate one is considered, as children will ensure that their parents are taken care of in old age. As in other Arab societies, names in Syria reveal family relations. On a document, a child’s given name is his or her first name, and the second name is the father’s first name, while the last name is either the family name or the first name of the grandfather on the father’s side. A woman does not take her husband’s name in marriage.
In general, Syrian society is patriarchal, and everyone is under the protection and authority of the oldest man. Women are believed to be in need of protection, particularly from the attention of unrelated men. Although older men are the family decision makers, women and younger men engage in a great deal of negotiation and non-confrontational actions to achieve their own goals.
Men and women socialize separately except on occasions when the whole family is involved. Talking is a favorite pastime, and the art of conversation is a prized skill. It is common to hear people speaking in loud voices because Syrians are very expressive people. Interruptions in conversation are common and they typically run off topic.
Syrians are known in the Arab world as skilled in construction and other types of manual labor in the hospitality, agricultural activities and service sectors. In pre-conflict Syria, there were many small business owners as well as a professional class made up of doctors, bureaucrats, teachers, university professors, and social workers, among others.
Their vision of time is different from that of Canadians. They do not know urgencies or at least they manage them differently—waits and delays are part of their culture.
Healthcare Beliefs and Practices
Syrians highly value Western medicine, though their health care beliefs, practices, and preferences reflect their own culture and social realities. They prefer to be seen by same-sex health care providers. Women will choose the services of a midwife over those of a male gynecologist. Syrians may be embarrassed by personal questions, particularly those having to do with sex. For reasons of modesty, female hospital patients usually prefer long hospital gowns that cover the lower legs. Training to be a nurse is less rigorous in Syria than in Western countries. As a result, Syrians tend to have less confidence in nurses than people in the West have.
Learning a little about Syria and it’s culture will go a long way in making new friends. Keeping an open mind and being tolerant of other cultures will also earn you their respect.
What is in a Name?
People from different countries and cultures have specific ways of addressing and greeting others when making acquaintances. Not knowing how to properly address someone can create potentially embarrassing situations for both parties and can be viewed as showing disrespect. The different ways of addressing people can also be confusing to newcomers to Canada.
In Spanish speaking countries, there are different ways of greeting each other depending on the context and how close your relationship with the other person is. Most Spanish speaking people also have 2 surnames – the first from the father and the second from the mother. The first surname is commonly used when addressing someone. Using first names only is appropriate among friends and young people while seniors and strangers should be addressed more formally using their first surnames. Using the title “senorita” to refer to a woman is usually reserved for younger, unmarried girls/women while the title Senora is normally used with older married women.
In Costa Rica it is common to get three or four names as it is a custom to name children after their corresponding saints, depending on the day they are born. Girls are generally named María followed by another name religious characters or saints’ name in order to differentiate them. José is a popular male name.
In China, the name starts with the family name followed by the first name. It is uncommon for Chinese wives to take their husband’s family name. In the Chinese workplace, someone is usually addressed first by his job title followed by his or her surname or full name. Seniors are addressed by placing an informal title before their surname. Many Chinese working with western companies or who live in English speaking countries often take on “nicknames” that are easier for westerners to remember and pronounce. Other cultures, such as in Japan, Korea, and Hungary, also order names as family name followed by given names.
In Russia, names differ in that the middle name is derived from the father’s first name. Russian women take their husband’s name but they will add an “a” to the end of the surname. First names and nicknames are used by friends but otherwise you should address a Russian by their surname.
In the Icelandic name Björk Guðmundsdóttir, Björk is the given name. The second part of the name indicates the father’s (or sometimes the mother’s) name, followed by ‑sson for a male and ‑sdóttir for a female, and is more of a description than a family name in the Western sense. Icelanders prefer to be called by their given name (Björk), or by their full name (Björk Guðmundsdóttir). Telephone directories in Iceland are sorted by given name.
Other cultures where a person has one given name followed by a patronymic naming system includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Brunei. In the name Isa bin Osman the word ‘bin’ means ‘son of’ or ‘binti’ means ‘daughter of’.
Surnames in the Indian subcontinent are mostly derived from the place a family belongs to, or the profession of their ancestors. That’s why many individuals have similar names. The only distinctive ones are those where the surname is actually the name of a caste – a concept unique to the subcontinent! As for selecting first names, the Muslim and Sikhs name start with the first alphabet on any given page from their holy book. The Hindu system involves the horoscope – mapping the planetary positions at the time of birth. Every star is associated with a letter of the alphabet, and an individual name begins with the alphabet of the constellation he/she is born under. Another interesting system is that of multiple names – the first and most important name in any family is the ‘family name’ – the name of an elder / ancestor. But then, it is not considered appropriate for the younger members to take the name of an elder, so another name is chosen for use in day-to-day life.
People extend respect in different manners. In numerous cultures, students use a prefix for a teacher instead of calling them out by their first name – this is because teachers hold a high regard in their respective societies, as they are the ones that transfer good traits and sound advice into the hearts and minds of their pupils.
Tip – Always error on the side of caution. Just as a well-dressed person will command respect and be looked upon favorably, addressing someone formally will usually be welcomed. If you are being overly formal, someone may just say, “ Call me Bill ”.
Recently, ten foreign tourists including two from Canada, were arrested in Borneo for posing nude for pictures on top of Mount Kinabalu and posting them on Facebook. Their actions outraged local authorities and showed disregard and disrespect “to the mountain gods.” Ultimately they were all fined and deported.
While this is an extreme event, it demonstrates that what may be acceptable in one country may be totally unacceptable in another. Below are some traditions/customs that you should pay attention to:
- In Indonesia, Nepal, Cambodia, Korea and Japan it is customary to always take off your shoes when entering someone’s home and it is considered to be a major “faux pas” to walk through someone’s house with your shoes on. The Japanese even have a separate pair of slippers for entering the bathroom.
- In Singapore it is prohibited to chew gum or spit in public or to jaywalk. The fine for forgetting to flush a public toilet is $500!
- Among Muslims, the left hand is reserved for bodily hygiene and considered unclean. Thus, the right hand should be used for eating. Shaking hands or handing over an item with one’s left hand is considered an insult.
- The Irish aren’t too comfortable with public displays of affection and aren’t too physically demonstrative.
- In Asia, specifically in Taiwan, Cambodia and Japan, leaving a pair of chopsticks pointing upright in your bowl as this is the way that rice is offered to the spirits of the dead or represents the incense sticks that are burned for the dead.
- When dining in Hong Kong, never turn a whole fish over. This is considered bad luck, because it represents a capsizing boat.
- It is an important rule of French etiquette to always greet someone officially first before speaking to them. When addressing a stranger with a question, greet them first, and then ask your question.
- In Nepal walking around temples is traditionally done clockwise.
- The general rule in any Muslim country is that when in public a woman’s clothing should cover the shoulders, upper arms and knees.
Much of the thrill of travelling comes from steeping yourself in a foreign culture whose customs and traditions may be vastly different from the ones you’re used to back home. When travelling, being mindful of local customs, traditions and laws is wiser than getting penalized for not knowing.
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