Faux pas

To blow or not to blow your nose

Our society dictates us how to behave in different situations, at work, in public, in school and how to stay polite when we have a cold or an allergy.

In our cultures it is polite to blow our nose when we have a cold, we use paper tissues our tissues made of silk or cotton to stop our nose from running !

In other cultures however, using tissues to blow our nose is considered dirty ! Indeed the tissue paper is considered as a means to spread bacteria !

You can experience in Asian countries and surely in other countries across the globe that people will use snorting or blow their nose with the hand which is considered in their culture more appropriate.

When we meet such people, especially if we are travelling on a plane our reaction will be to provide them with a tissue. Believe me, if we do that they will not know what to do with it and may use it to wipe off sweat or just use it to dry their hands off after washing their hands.

Moral of the story is we are all conditioned about what is right and what is wrong, however right and wrong are not universal and we need to respect and understand that others have different customs and perceptions !

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shaking heads, slurping one´s soup – different manners

We all have our own ways of doing things: eating, working, acknowledging our counterpart when he is talking and also our own way of seeing the world

Most of the time, our way of doing things is not shared by others and we have to accept it, because how we do things is not universal and we need to be complacent and understanding towards other ways and view points.

I have two examples of faux pas which I have experienced working in South East Asia.

The first faux pas I came across was whilst we were having a team meeting to discuss our strategy. The team was composed of a Singaporean, an Indian, an Indonesian (who studied in the UK), myself and our German boss. The meeting went very smoothly and all points had been discussed, when all of a sudden, my boss asked my Indian colleague to stop shaking his head.

Now, we are aware that people have different ways of showing they agree or that they are following a topic, and that was how my Indian colleague used to do it and for that matter most Indians. Nobody said a word, we all looked at each other and left the room without any comments as we were truly shocked by what had just happened !

What happened exactly ? There is no real explanation really, we are not in my boss´s head and we don´t know what came through his mind when he addressed my Indian colleague. What might be was that it distracted him and so he lost his patience. There are surely many explanations, but still, we have to remember that what we say can be very intrusive, disrespectful and hurting to others !

Another faux pas I experienced was whilst having dinner with our South East Asian counterparts, we were having dinner and eating soup when one of our counterpart made some noise whilst eating his soup. All my expat friends just stared at him with their mouths wide open with surprise. They didn´t say a thing but the way they looked at our counterpart and their body language led him to stop eating. In Asian cultures what just happened was that my friends made this man lose his face. No wonder we didn´t hear from him anymore.

In Asia the concept of Face is very important, you have to give, earn and receive face. It is a very strong concept and you can do a lot of harm if you make someone lose face and it can cost you your business or friendship.

Therefore, please be aware that we all do things differently, there is no right or wrong way, just differences that we need to accept and not react upon so strongly. Why not try to keep it for ourself and not hurt anybody in the process.

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