Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gracious Greetings

When greeting someone, an American’s first instinct is to stick out his or her hand, look directly at the other person, and smile. In some situations this habit can mean making three mistakes at once. And the moment of greeting is when crucial first impressions are made. Methods and styles of greeting vary greatly around the world, and you need to know which practices apply in different circumstances.

➤ When greeting Asians for the first time, do not initiate the handshake. You may be forcing a physical contact that the other person finds uncomfortable. Many Asians, particularly Japanese, have learned to accept the handshake when dealing with Westerners. Because the bow is the customary greeting in Japan, a slight bow of the head when responding to a proffered handshake is appropriate. Westerners generally are not expected to be familiar with the complex Japanese bowing protocols.
➤ Most Latinos are more accustomed to physical contact. Even people who know each other only slightly may embrace when greeting.
➤ Middle Easterners, particularly Muslims, avoid body contact with the opposite sex, but persons of the same sex commonly hug when greeting each other. When shaking hands, men should be careful not to pull their hand away too quickly.
➤ People from France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal greet friends by kissing on both cheeks.
➤ The smile is the near-universal gesture of friendliness, and in America its meaning is usually clear. The person smiling is happy, amused, and/or sending out a friendly signal. In other cultures the smile may be sending other signals. In some Latin cultures, for example, the smile may be used to say “Excuse me” or “Please.”
➤ If a person from another culture does not return your greeting smile, it doesn’t indicate hostility or bad manners. In some Asian cultures, smiling is a gesture to be reserved for informal occasions, and smiling while being formally introduced would be considered disrespectful.
➤ In many cultures, avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect, but such behavior can lead to misunderstandings. For example, some Korean shopkeepers have been accused of disrespecting their non-Korean customers because the shopkeepers avoided making eye contact. The same sort of misunderstanding has occurred between American teachers and Asian students who do not look at the teacher while he or she is speaking.

Smashing Stereotypes

A good way to begin to learn about others is to get rid of what you think you already know about them. Here are some common generalizations that you need to jettison:

➤ All Latin cultures hold the siesta inviolate.
➤ Visitors from abroad are eager to be taken to a restaurant that serves what Americans consider to be the visitors’ favorite foods.
➤ Signs and gestures and loud English will bridge language gaps. (Noise never helps, and gestures send various and not always appropriate messages, depending upon the background and traditions of the observer.)
➤ Asians are remote and inscrutable.
➤ Germans are cold and superefficient.
➤ Japanese are basically shy.

If you are visiting another country or are hosting or otherwise spending time with people from other cultures, don’t hesitate to confess your ignorance of other cultures and ask for help. Your candor will be appreciated and your errors more cheerfully tolerated.

Hospital Etiquette

When a friend is hospitalized, you want to show that you care, but you don’t want to demonstrate your concern in ways that will make the experience even more burdensome for your friend.

➤ Do not telephone. Calls can be burdensome or exhausting for a patient. They can also be annoying to other patients. Call the patient’s family or office to find out how things are going and have your message of concern passed on.
➤ Check with the family to see whether flowers are appropriate. Remember that nurses don’t have time to take care of flowers, and nothing is worse than a hospital room with dying flowers in it. If you want to send flowers, send them to the home on the day the patient returns home.
➤ Check with the doctor before bringing gifts of food or sweets.
➤ Send attractive and/or amusing greeting cards and include a written message, for example, “The office is a lot less cheerful and productive without you.”
➤ Send some light reading and/or books and poetry on tape. If the patient doesn’t have a tape player, supply one.
➤ Speak softly and carry a big smile.

People with disabilities are very much like people without disabilities except, perhaps, that their daily lives may require a bit more courage and character than the rest of us need. If you are uncomfortable in their presence, it is your fault, not theirs. This discomfort will disappear if, while acknowledging that they have a disability, you treat them with the same respect that you expect for yourself. They don’t want your pity, and they deserve your admiration.