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Cultural Tips and Hints

The following information is largely based on the book: Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway, and George A. Borden, PhD. Additional tips are provided by:

5Cs (Citizens of Cupertino Cross-Cultural Consortium) members.

Communicating with people from different cultures can be both exciting and confusing. It's exciting because we can learn new things about other people and other cultures. And learning about other cultures often gives us a new perspective on our own culture. Cross- cultural communication can also be confusing, for example, when you find yourself in a situation where you're not sure what to say or do. What's appropriate? What's inappropriate? What are the rules? These are difficult questions. Sometimes so difficult they prevent us from interacting with others who are different from us. That's unfortunate. Living in Cupertino with its rich mix of cultures and peoples provides wonderful opportunities to learn about others, and about ourselves.

So how do you get started? We hope that you will use these cultural tips and hints as conversation starters. Each of the items below provides a generalized norm about some of the more common ways that people from different cultures socialize, greet one another, give gifts, etc. The list does not account for individual differences, nor will it answer all your questions about a given culture. Frankly, we're not entirely sure if they're even accurate! What we do think is that the list provides a window into some of the cultural norms that guide communication in different cultures. We encourage you to use these tips and hints as a way to initiate conversations with others, as a way to begin learning about other cultures.

Please tell us about your experiences using these cultural tips and hints. This is a work in progress. We are looking forward to modifying and extending the list based on what we hear from you!

China
India
Iran
Japan
Mexico
Taiwan
United States of America

Each links to section below.

CHINA
Socializing
• When you are a guest in someone's home, try to arrive promptly or even a little early.
• Typically, guests eat or drink after their host does.
• It is polite to sample every dish.

Greetings
• It is common for the Chinese to nod or bow slightly when greeting another person, although handshakes are common. It's a good idea to wait for the other person to extend a hand first.
• Introductions tend to be formal, with courtesy rather than familiarity preferred. Titles/Forms of Address.
• Names are listed in a different order from Western names. Each person receives a family name, a generational name, and a given name at birth-in that order.

Gifts
• Try to avoid giving anything of value in front of others, as it might cause the recipient both embarrassment and trouble.
• When giving or receiving a gift, it is common to use both hands. The gift is not usually opened in the presence of the giver.
• The Chinese associate all of the following gifts and colors with funerals-it's best to avoid them: straw sandals; clocks; a stork or crane (although the Western association of storks with births is known to many young Chinese); handkerchiefs (often given at funerals; they symbolize sadness and weeping); and gifts (or wrapping paper) in which the predominant color is white, black, or blue.
• If possible, wrap gifts in red, a lucky color; pink and yellow, are happy, prosperous colors and also good choices. Avoid using white, which is the color for funerals.

Cupertino residents include the following:

Table manners
• Chinese love to eat. People will be loud (especially when liquor is served). Do not be offended if the hosts put food on your plate, whether you want it or not, to refuse is to be rude. Be adventurous, try things that are unfamiliar, the hosts will be delighted. People will pick up the bowl to the mouth, slurp the soup and talk while eating, take it with a grain of salt. If you are the host, be sure to offer the food to your guests repeatedly, encourage them to eat and if you feel comfortable serve them. Do not take the initial decline as their true intention, a polite guest will not ask for anything nor accept things at first offering.
• Most people try to finish what is offered. If the host/hostess apologizes that they have not prepared enough food or that this is really not good enough, don't believe them. Chinese tradition is to always over-prepare and put the best forward. However, it's customary for hosts to be humble. Just compliment the host/hostess if it's great food and that you really enjoy the meal. (And if it's terrible, just don't accept the invitation next time.)

Gift-giving
• When you are visiting someone for the first time, be sure to take a little gift, gifts from the guest's native country are always good; food (cookies, candy, chocolate, etc.), fruits, plants are acceptable. If you received gifts from the same person before, be sure to reciprocate with gifts of equal value (People from mainland China seem to like hard liquor and cigarettes.)
• Giving money for graduations, weddings, birthdays, etc. is acceptable.

Funerals
• If you are invited to a funeral, dress in dark colors. Bright colors and prints are disrespectful. Money in white envelopes is common unless the deceased is elderly, then use red envelopes. Flowers of white or yellow color can be taken also. Bow slightly when viewing the body, bow or shake hands with the family.

Visiting homes
• Be sure to take a small gift, ask the host whether you should remove your shoes and sit where your host offers. If you are taking some plants or flowers, avoid white or yellow flowers, they are the colors of a funeral. Do not give clocks to Chinese people (watches are okay) because clock rhymes with end (death).
• As a host, be sure to offer drinks and snacks, even if the guests decline, bring the drink and food to the guests.

INDIA
Socializing
• Remember that Hindus do not eat beef and Muslims do not eat pork.
• If you are invited to dinner, be a few minutes late unless it is an official function. If the dinner is in a home, you may arrive 15 to 30 minutes late.
• It is not a good idea to offer another person (even a spouse) food from your plate.
Greetings
• The traditional Indian greeting is the "namaste." To perform the "namaste", hold the palms of your hands together (as if praying) below the chin, nod or bow slightly, and say "namaste" (nah-mas-tay).

Titles / Forms of Address
• Titles are highly valued by Indians. Use professional titles whenever possible, such as Professor and Doctor. Address someone by Mr., Mrs., or Miss unless you are asked to do otherwise, or if you are close friends.

Gestures
• The head is considered the seat of the soul by many Indians. Avoid touching someone else's head, not even to pat the hair of a child.

Gifts
• Gifts are usually not opened in the presence of the giver. If you receive a wrapped gift, set it aside until the giver leaves.
• Avoid wrapping gifts in black or white, which are considered unlucky colors. Green, red, and yellow are lucky colors.

Cupertino residents also include the following:
Table manners
• It is best not to fill your plate to begin with so you can accept something when the host offers. Normally halfway through the meal the host may come to offer a piece of sweet. Sweets are not always eaten as desserts but are often eaten with the meal. It is polite to first gently decline. When the host presses a little, it is okay to accept it.

Gift-giving
• Try not to give leather items or alcohol. Some Indians love leather and alcohol but some are against it for religious reasons. Chocolates often make great gifts.
Funerals
• Appropriate attire general consists of white color or other pastel colors. Brightly- colored clothes are not typically worn.

Visiting homes, places of worship
• Remove shoes outside before entering a place of worship. When visiting someone's home, it is polite to ask them if they would like to have you take your shoes off or watch what they are doing and do the same.

IRAN
Tips from a Cupertino resident:
Socializing

• Respect for elders is very important in the Iranian culture. Quite often when an older person arrives in a room, visitors or the people sitting around will stand up in respectful greeting of this older person. Elders are addressed in the formal form of the word "you".
• Elderly people quite often eat first at dinner parties and get-togethers.
• When an older person speaks it is imperative that one listens attentively as a sign of respect.
• Being a gracious host is also extremely important. When any guest arrives in your home, you should offer them something to drink (preferably tea or a cold drink in the hot summer months). Even if the guest declines the offer, which most will do to be polite, the tea and sweets or other drinks and snacks should be brought for the guests. A polite guest will never ask for anything, but it is understood that the hostess will provide drinks and food upon a visitor's arrival.

Greetings
• It is best not to shake hands, hug, or kiss people of the opposite gender. If a person of the opposite gender does not look into your eyes when speaking, it is quite often a sign of polite respect, or modesty, rather than disrespect. Do not offer alcoholic beverages to practicing Muslims, or serve food that contains pork products.

Visiting homes
• If you have been invited to someone's home, you should reciprocate by inviting them back, or at least taking them out to lunch or some other appropriate place.
• Some superstitious behaviors still remain such as leaving your home on the 13th day of the New Year to ward off evil spirits, or stopping whatever you're doing after sneezing.

JAPAN
Socializing
• When entering a Japanese home, ask if you should take off your shoes at the door.
• Avoid pointing your chopsticks at another person. When you are not using them, you should line them up on the chopstick rest.

Greetings
• The bow is the traditional greeting.
• If someone bows to greet you, observe carefully. Bow to the same depth as you have been bowed to, because the depth of the bow indicates the status relationship between you. As you bow, lower your eyes.

Gestures
• To get through a crowd, it is not uncommon for the Japanese to push others.
• In conversation, the Japanese remain farther apart than do North Americans.
• Direct eye contact is not the norm.
• Laughter can mean embarrassment, confusion, or shock, rather than mirth.
• Silence is not as uncomfortable for the Japanese as it is for North Americans; rather, it is considered useful.

Gifts
• If you are invited to a Japanese home, it is a good idea to bring flowers, cakes, or candy. The flowers should not be white, as these are associated with death.

Cupertino residents also add these tips:
Seating

• The guest of honor should have his/her back to the wall farthest from the door...a tradition from olden times when the wall panel usually had an escape route in case of attack.

Table manners
Japanese start a meal by saying "Itadaki masu" and finish by saying "gochisosama" indicating gratefulness when about to partake of a meal and that meal was a good one.

Gift-giving
• When sending a visitor home with a gift, the gift should at least look as expensive as the one received.
• It is a good idea to avoid giving a gift from Asia. Meat products or liquor are well received (salami from San Francisco, wine). Things indicative of one's location, in our case California, are proper, so a California wine is good. Sweets are good though meat products (beef jerky, salami, proscuitto etc.) are preferred since they are harder to get and more expensive.

Funerals
• Koden (money) is given. One is supposed to give at least the amount received from the family (e.g. If the Sato's gave you $50 when your immediate family member died, you should give the Sato's at least $50 if anyone in their immediate family dies.)

Visiting homes
• Always bring a gift if you are invited to a person's home. See gift-giving.

MEXICO
Socializing
• Punctuality is not expected for parties, dinner invitations, and so forth.
• You may be invited to a girl's fifteenth birthday party. This is called a quinceanera, and is an important occasion, resembling a coming-out party in the United States.

Greetings
• Be prepared for a hug on the second or third meeting.
• At a party, give a slight bow to everyone as you enter the room. It is customary to greet and shake hands with each individual. You are also expected to shake hands with each person when you leave.

Gestures
• Conversations take place at a much closer physical distance than what may be considered comfortable in the United States. Pulling away from your counterpart may be regarded as unfriendly-or a Mexican may simply step forward and close the distance up again.
• Mexican men are warm and friendly and make a lot of physical contact. They often touch shoulders or hold another's arm. To withdraw from such a gesture is considered insulting.

Gifts
• Gifts are not required from a dinner guest. An extension of thanks and a reciprocal invitation are considered sufficient. However, a gift will be happily accepted if offered. Good choices are candy, flowers, or local crafts from home.
• When giving flowers, be aware that Mexican folklore maintains that yellow flowers represent death, red flowers cast spells, and white flowers lift spells.
• Avoid giving gifts made of silver; silver is associated with trinkets sold to tourists in Mexico.

Cupertino residents also add:
• Favors are not expected in return. Do not try to pay a person who helps as a favor.
• When an invitation is extended to someone for dinner, movies, etc., the person who invites the other should pay. It is insulting if the invitee offers to help pay.

TAIWAN
Socializing
• At a meal, eat lightly in the beginning, since there could be up to 20 courses served. Expect your host to keep filling your bowl with food whenever you empty it. Finishing all of your food is an insult to your host, since it means that the host did not provide enough and that you are still hungry. Leaving a full bowl is also rude. The trick is to leave an amount somewhere in the middle.
• Sticking your chopsticks straight up in your rice bowl is considered rude.
• Avoid putting food taken from a serving dish directly into your mouth. Transfer it to your plate or bowl first.
• It is not considered rude to leave promptly after the meal is finished.

Greetings
• When meeting someone for the first time, a nod of the head is sufficient.
• Elderly people are very highly respected, so it is polite to speak with them first. A compliment on their good health is always appreciated.
• Wait to be introduced to another at gatherings and parties. Avoid introducing yourself.

Titles / Forms of Address
• Names are listed in a different order from Western names. Each person receives a family name, a generational name, and a given name at birth-in that order.

Gifts
• When giving or receiving a gift, use both hands. The gift is not opened in the presence of the giver.
• Taiwanese traditionally decline a gift three times before accepting. Continue to insist; once they accept the gift say that you are pleased that they have done so.
• Gifts of food are always appreciated, but avoid bringing food gifts with you to a dinner or party (unless it has been agreed upon beforehand). To bring food may imply that your host cannot provide enough. Instead, send food as a thank-you gift afterwards. Candy or fruit baskets are good choices.
• Taiwanese associate all of the following with funerals-avoid giving them as gifts: straw sandals; clocks; a stork or crane (although the Western association of storks with births is known to many young Taiwanese); handkerchiefs (often given at funerals; they symbolize sadness and weeping); and gifts (or wrapping paper) where the predominant color is white, black, or blue-red, pink, and yellow are happy, prosperous colors.
• Also avoid any gifts of knives, scissors, or cutting tools; to the Chinese, these are the severing of a friendship.

UNITED STATES OF AMERCIA
Socializing
• Punctuality is highly emphasized. If you are invited for a meal, you should arrive promptly.
• If you are invited to a cocktail party, you can arrive a few minutes late; you do not need to call ahead even if you will be a half hour late.
• When eating out, the cost can be shared with friends. This is called "splitting the bill," "getting separate checks," or "going Dutch."
• If you are invited out socially, but your host does not offer to pay, you should be prepared to pay for your own meal.
• Most parties are informal, unless the hosts tell you otherwise.
• If you are offered food or drink, you are not obliged to accept. Also, your host will probably not urge you to eat, so help yourself whenever you want.
• It is not considered rude to eat while walking; many people also eat in their cars.
• When staying in a U.S. home, you will probably be expected to help out around the house by making your bed, helping to clear the dishes after a meal, and so forth.

Greetings
• The standard greeting is a smile, often accompanied by a nod, wave, and/or verbal greeting.
• Typically, a handshake is very firm.
• Good friends and family members usually embrace, finishing the embrace with a pat or two on the back.
• The greeting "How are you?" is not an inquiry about your health. The best response is a short one, such as "Fine, thanks."

Gestures
• The standard space between you and your conversation partner should be about two feet.
• Direct eye contact shows that you are sincere, although it should not be too intense.
• When sitting, U.S. citizens often look very relaxed. They may sit with the ankle of one leg on their knee or prop their feet up on chairs or desks.

Gifts
• When you visit a home, it is not necessary to take a gift; however, it is always appreciated. You may take flowers, a plant, or a bottle of wine.

Last updated: 12/9/2009 3:13:39 PM