Cultural Outreach

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Learning About Others & Ourselves

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 cultures, which can provide a new perspective on our own culture. Cross-cultural communication can be confusing when, for example, you find yourself in a situation in which you're not sure what to say or do. What's appropriate? What's inappropriate? Living in Cupertino with its rich mix of cultures and people provides wonderful opportunities to learn about others, and about ourselves.

Cultural Tips

The Citizens of Cupertino Cross-Cultural Consortium (5Cs) compiled the following tips based on the insights of members of the consortium and on the book Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries by Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway.

Keep in mind that these are generalized norms about some of the common ways that people from different cultures socialize, greet one another, give gifts, etc. They do not account for individual differences, nor answer all of your questions about a given culture. We encourage you to use these tips as a way to initiate conversations with others and to begin learning about other cultures.

See the below for cultural tips on these countries.

United States of America

• When you are invited to be a guest in someone's home, be punctual or arrive a little early. (Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (KBSH))
• Guests usually do not eat or drink until their host has done so. (KBSH)
• Sample every dish. It is considered impolite not to do so. (KBSH)

• Chinese commonly nod or bow slightly when greeting a person. Handshakes also are common; wait for the other person to extend a hand first. (KBSH)
• Expect introductions to be formal rather than personal. This is a mark of courtesy. (KBSH)
• The sequence of a person’s name is family name, generational name and given name – opposite of the sequence used in the United States. (KBSH)

• If you are giving a gift of value, do so privately. Giving such a gift in front of others may cause the recipient embarrassment. If the recipient is a government or factory official, thoroughly research what is acceptable to avoid causing a problem. (KBSH)
• Use both hands to give or receive a gift. Keep in mind that a person usually will not open a gift in the presence of the giver. (KBSH)
• Do not give or use the following, which the Chinese associate with funerals: straw sandals; clocks; a stork or crane; handkerchiefs; and gifts or wrapping paper that are white, black or blue in color. (KBSH)
• Red is a lucky color and a good choice for wrapping a gift. The happy, prosperous colors pink and yellow are also good choices. Do not use white, which is associated with funerals. (KBSH)
• When you are visiting someone for the first time, it is appropriate to take a small gift. A gift from your native country is a good choice, such as cookies or candies. Fruits, a plant or flowers also are good choices, but avoid white or yellow flowers because they are funeral colors. People from mainland China seem to like hard liquor and cigarettes. (Citizens of Cupertino Cross-Cultural Consortium (5Cs))
• Do not give clocks to Chinese people because clock rhymes with end (death). Watches are okay. (5Cs)
• If you previously received a gift from the person, be sure to reciprocate with a gift of equal value. (5Cs)
• Giving money for graduations, weddings, birthdays, etc. is acceptable. (5Cs)

Table Manners
• Chinese people love to eat. Expect people to be loud, especially when liquor is served. People will pick up the bowl to the mouth, slurp the soup and talk while eating; take it with a grain of salt. (5Cs)
• Do not be offended if the host puts food on your plate, whether you want it or not; to refuse is rude. Be adventurous and try things that are unfamiliar; the host will be delighted. (5Cs) 
• If you are the host, offer the food to your guests repeatedly, encourage them to eat and, if you feel comfortable, serve them. Do not take an initial decline as their true intention; a polite guest will not ask for anything nor accept things at first offering. (5Cs)
• Most people try to finish what is offered. If the host apologizes for not preparing enough food or for the food not being good enough, don't believe it. Chinese tradition is to over-prepare and put the best forward. It is customary for hosts to be humble. Just compliment the host if it's great food and say that you really enjoy the meal. (If it's terrible, just don't accept the invitation next time.) (5Cs)

Visiting Homes
• Be sure to take a small gift. See “Gifts” above. (5Cs)
• Ask the host whether you should remove your shoes. Sit where your host offers. (5Cs)
• As a host, be sure to offer drinks and snacks, even if the guests decline, and bring the drink and food to the guests. (5Cs)

• If you are invited to a funeral, wear dark colors. Wearing bright colors and prints may be considered disrespectful. (5Cs)
• Money given in a white envelope is common. If the deceased was an elderly person, then use a red envelope. Flowers of white or yellow color can be taken also. (5Cs)
• Bow slightly when viewing the body; bow or shake hands with the family. (5Cs)

• Be aware that beef is a taboo food for Hindus, and pork is a forbidden food for Muslims. (KBSH)
• If you are invited to dinner, being on time is NOT good etiquette. Be a few minutes late unless it is an official function. If the dinner is in a home, arriving 15 to 30 minutes late is considered good manners. (KBSH)
• Do not offer food from your plate to someone else, even your spouse. It’s considered bad manners. (KBSH)

• The "namaste" is the traditional greeting. Slightly bow or nod, press your hands together below your chin with your fingers pointing up and say "namaste" (nah-mas-tay), which means “I bow to the divine in you.” (KBSH)
• If the person you are meeting has a professional title, such as professor or doctor, use it. Use Mr., Mrs. or Miss unless asked to do otherwise or you are close friends. (KBSH)

• Avoid touching someone’s head because many Indians consider it the seat of the soul. This includes not even patting the hair of a child. (KBSH)  

• Normally, a gift will not be opened in front of the giver. When receiving a wrapped gift, put aside and open it after the giver has left. (KBSH)
• Green, red and yellow are good choices for gift wrapping because they are considered lucky colors. Do not use black or white, which are unlucky colors. (KBSH)
• Try not to give leather items or alcohol. Some Indians love leather and alcohol, but some are against it for religious reasons. (5Cs)
• Chocolates often make great gifts. (5Cs)

Table Manners
• Do not fill your plate immediately so you can accept something when the host offers. Halfway through the meal the host may come to offer a sweet. Sweets are not always eaten as desserts and often are eaten with the meal. It is polite to first gently decline. When the host presses a little, it is okay to accept it. (5Cs) 

Visiting Homes & Places of Worship
• Remove your shoes outside before entering a place of worship. (5Cs)
• 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. (5Cs)

• Appropriate attire generally should be white or pastel colored. Brightly-colored clothes are not worn typically. (5Cs)


• 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.” (5Cs)
• Elderly people often eat first at dinner parties and get-togethers. (5Cs)
• When an older person speaks, it is imperative that one listens attentively as a sign of respect. (5Cs)
• 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. (5Cs)

• It is best not to shake hands, hug or kiss people of the opposite gender. (5Cs)

Table Manners  
• Do not offer alcoholic beverages to practicing Muslims or serve food that contains pork products. (5Cs)

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. (5Cs)
• 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. (5Cs)


• Before going into a Japanese home, ask if you should take off your shoes. (KBSH)
• The guest of honor should have his or 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. (5Cs)

• Greetings traditionally are accompanied by a bow, which expresses appreciation and respect. (KBSH)
• When a person bows to greet you, be sure to bow in return to the same depth and lower your eyes as you do so. (KBSH)

• While talking, the Japanese stand further away that North Americans do. (KBSH)
• Do not expect direct eye contact. It is not the norm. (KBSH)
• Laughter does not necessarily mean amusement. It also can be an expression of embarrassment, confusion or shock. (KBSH)
• Silence is considered useful. It is not as uncomfortable in Japan as it is in the United States. (KBSH)
• Pushing others to get through a crowd is not an uncommon behavior. (KBSH)

• Being invited to a Japanese home is an honor, and you should bring a gift, such as flowers, cakes or candy. The flowers should not be white, because that color symbolizes death. (KBSH)
• When sending a visitor home with a gift, the gift should at least look as expensive as the one received. (5Cs)
• Avoid giving a gift from Asia. Meat products or liquor are well received (salami from San Francisco, California wine). Things indicative of your location, in our case California, are proper. Sweets are good though meat products (beef jerky, salami, prosciutto, etc.) are preferred since they are harder to get and more expensive. (5Cs)

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. (5Cs)
• Do not point chopsticks at another person. When not in use, line them up on the chopstick rest. (KBSH)

• Koden (money) is given. You should give at least the amount previously received from the family. For example, 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. (5Cs)

• For parties, dinners, etc., punctuality is not expected. (KBSH)
• If you are invited to a girl's quinceanera or fifteenth birthday party, it is an important event. It is the equivalent of a coming-out party. (KBSH)
• 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. (5Cs)

• Hugs often are exchanged on the second or third meeting. (KBSH)  
• As you arrive at a party, bow slightly to everyone. Greet and shake hands with each person. As you leave, again shake hands with each person. (KBSH)

• During conversation, Mexicans stand close to each other. Pulling away may be seen as unfriendly. (KBSH)  
• Mexican men tend to make physical contact with each other, touching shoulders or holding arms. Withdrawing from such a gesture is viewed as an insult. (KBSH)

• A dinner guest is not expected to bring a gift. An expression of appreciation and a reciprocal invitation are considered sufficient. If you do choose to bring a gift such as candy, flowers or local crafts from your area, it will be happily accepted. (KBSH)
• When giving flowers, avoid yellow, which represent death, and red, which represent the casting of spells, in Mexican folklore. (KBSH)
• Do not give an item made of silver because of the association with souvenirs sold to tourists. (KBSH)  
• Favors are not expected to be returned. Do not try to pay a person who helps as a favor. (5Cs)

• During a meal, eat lightly in the beginning, 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 means that the host did not provide enough and you are still hungry. Leaving a full bowl is also rude. Leave an amount somewhere in the middle. (KBSH)  
• Do not stick your chopsticks straight up in your rice bowl. It’s rude. (KBSH)
• Put food taken from a serving dish onto your plate first. Do not put it directly into your mouth. (KBSH)
• It is okay to leave immediately after the meal is finished. That is not considered rude. (KBSH)

• When meeting someone for the first time, a nod is appropriate. (KBSH)
• Speak with elderly people first as a sign of respect. Complimenting their good health is appropriate. (KBSH)
• At gatherings, do not introduce yourself. Wait to be introduced. (KBSH)
• The sequence of a person’s name is family name, generational name and given name – opposite of the sequence used in the United States. (KBSH)

• Use both hands to give or receive a gift. Keep in mind that a person usually will not open a gift in the presence of the giver. (KBSH)
• When giving a gift, expect it to be declined three times before it is accepted. You should continue to insist. When the person finally accepts the gift, say that you are pleased that they have done so. (KBSH)
• Do not bring food gifts to a dinner or party unless agreed to beforehand. Bringing food may be seen as a message that the host cannot provide enough. You may send food, such as candy or a fruit basket, as a thank you afterward. (KBSH)
• Because the Taiwanese associate the following gifts and colors with funerals, it's best to avoid them: straw sandals; clocks; a stork or crane; handkerchiefs, which signify sadness and are often given at funerals; and gifts or wrapping paper that are white, black or blue in color. (KBSH)
• Red is a lucky color and a good choice for wrapping a gift. The happy, prosperous colors pink and yellow are also good choices. (KBSH)
• Do not give knives, scissors or cutting tools. Such a gift symbolizes severing a friendship. (KBSH)

• Punctuality is expected for meals. Arrive on time especially if you are invited for dinner. (KBSH)  
• For a party, it is usually okay to arrive a few minutes late. (KBSH)
• If you are invited to dinner at a restaurant and the host does not offer to pay, be prepared to pay for your own meal., which is called “getting separate checks” or "going Dutch.” Sometimes a group of friends shares the cost, which is called “splitting the bill.” (KBSH)
• Expect a party to be informal, unless you are told otherwise. (KBSH)
• You usually will not be expected to accept food or drink you are offered unless you wish to. Your host may not urge you to eat and instead may expect you to “help yourself” to food or beverages. (KBSH)
• You may see people eat while walking or eat in their cars. Neither are considered to be rude.  (KBSH)

• People often greet each other with a smile, as well as a nod, wave and a verbal greeting. (KBSH)
• Handshakes often are used as a greeting in business situations and are very firm. (KBSH)
• When greeting another, people often say, “How are you?” They are not really asking about your health or state of affairs. The expected response is something brief, such as, “I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” (KBSH)  
• Close friends and family members often embrace when seeing each other and may pat each other on the back. (KBSH)

• When talking, people tend to stand about two feet apart. (KBSH)
• Direct eye contact is a sign of sincerity. However, if it is too intense, it can be considered a sign of aggression. (KBSH)
• People often adopt very relaxed positions when sitting, such as crossing their legs or putting their feet on a chair or desk. (KBSH)

A gift is not expected when you visit a home. If you wish to give something, flowers, a plant or a bottle of wine are good choices. (KBSH)

Visiting Homes
• If you are staying in someone’s home, you likely will be expected to make your bed, help clear and wash dishes after a meal, etc. (KBSH)