Cultural misunderstanding can be worst type of embarrassment you can possibly face. It happens when you do something that is totally fine to do in your culture but it is offensive to the others. This kind of confusions might cause you from embarrassment to good beating and most probably getting fired form a job. So, one thing is clear that we must be wary of cultural misunderstandings in order to avoid troubles.
It can happen both ways, sometimes unintentionally, someone may hurt your feelings and sometimes may be you will offence someone terribly. In either case, you should always accept that there is a possibility that cultural differences are causing communication problems, and be patient and forgiving instead of being and aggressive. You should always respond slowly with kindness, do not jump to the conclusion that other offended you intentionally.
It is always better to research about all possible misunderstandings that might take place in that particular country you chose form education. So, here are some of the most common cultural misunderstandings one may have to face.
1 - Hand Gestures:
It is always advised to mind your body language when in an unknown company especially if you in a foreign country. Sometimes, the hand gestures you make can have different meanings than what they had in your country.
You must be aware of OK sign you make with your thumbs up. In Iran it is considered an insult. It’s known as a ‘bilakh’, which is a substitute to what showing middle finger means. In Brazil and France, the “OK” sign, where thumb and forefinger meet to create a circle, is an offensive gesture that refers to an offensive gender mark. Unless you are really looking forward to a pounding and few days in jail, I suggest you avoid it.
“I used to travel to Brazil as the technical representative of an international coffee company. Upon arrival at one of our key suppliers, they wanted me to see and taste the results of a process improvement that they had developed.
After going through the tasting ritual, I turned to them and with a big smile on my face, thought that I was indicating that the improvement was very good. However, when I held up my hand with a circle formed by my thumb and forefinger, symbolizing “OK” the faces around the room fell and there was a collective gasp of dismay”, shares Andrew J. Perla.
2 - Embracing:
Embracing is one of the ways to greet in most parts of the world but not in all parts of the world. There are some countries where trying to embrace might get you embarrassed. In East Asia it’s advised to keep a respectful distance. Likewise, if you are in one of Buddhist countries, just don’t touch their head because there head is considered sacred and if someone touches it is a serious insult to them. In Qatar, men and women are forbidden to publicly embrace one another.
Whereas, in some countries embracing an important part of their lives. In Italy, literally embracing one another on a regular basis is a common custom. Likewise in many other countries whether they are Muslim, Christian or Jewish; it is common custom to meet near and dear by embracing, however, you might want to avoid embracing opposite gender no matter where you are, seriously don’t try it, they will not ask which country you are from.
3 - Mind your feet:
You must know in many cultures especially in Muslims, sole of feet are directed very carefully. If you are pointing your feet soles to someone it is like disrespecting them. Richard Cook from Naples, Florida shares of his experiences when he had a meeting with a client.
“I like to sit with my legs crossed. I was in London at a business meeting with an Arab client and while my legs were crossed I was showing him the sole of my shoes. Afterward someone told me that was an offense to an Arab. No wonder I didn’t get the sale.”
4 - No Shoes:
There are many places in the world where you must take your shoes off before entering. Masjids and Temples are the common example for this. However, in some cultures you are not even allowed to enter in a house with your shoes on. In the South Pacific or some parts of East Asia, you must remember to remove your shoes before entering a house as a sign of respect and cleanliness. In Japanese culture this thing is most common. However, in countries like Germany, they also sometimes require you take your shoes off before entering the house.
5 - Using Words Carefully:
Words can be sharper than a sword, they should always be used carefully even if you are in homeland. But on international level, they literally create a great of confusion and awkwardness. Sometimes, wrong pronunciation can cause misunderstanding and often one word may have different meaning in different cultures or countries. Here is an example of it that a friend shared on online portal.
“While I was studying Spanish in Mexico during the early 80’s, I once made a mistake of asking a single Mexican woman if a situation had made her “embarasada”. That of course, means pregnant, rather than embarrassed which they refer to verguenza (shame). Her shock was mirrored in my very red face, but I was feeling shame for sure; I wasn’t embarasada.”