The Fun Part

Living and working in countries, cultures, and languages that differ from your own tends to translate into unlimited entertainment - as you will, no doubt, commit frequent "faux pas". There's only one piece of advice: Laugh! What else can you do? You will invariably do and say ridiculous things, leaving locals either looking at you as if you have two heads or laughing uncontrollably at your expense. If you opt not to laugh, you will likely find yourself grumbling endlessly about how things just don't function in the way you might expect or like and blaming the local culture.

Is the local culture at fault if you make the mistake of hopping into the front seat of a cab in the United States? sit with the soles of your feet pointed at your Indian or Nepalese colleague? close the door behind a departing guest in Sierra Leone, without walking the guest partway home? sit on the edge of a table or desk in Kazakhstan? initiate a handshake or other touch with the opposite sex? point your finger at someone in El Salvador? give the "okay" sign to someone in Turkey or Brazil? pat someone (including a child) on the head in a Buddhist country? use your left hand to accept a document or to eat? blow your nose in public in Japan? nod your head in Bulgaria to indicate "yes" or shake it to express "no"? back away from your Mexican colleague who is standing close to you while discussing a recent meeting? No, no, no, and no. So, excuse yourself, apologize, and recede to the nearest public restroom where you can laugh at your cross-cultural gaffe! You're not the first . . .

Depending on the context, the situation may be quickly forgotten, or your mistake may be highly offensive and cause a significant rift between yourself and the local community. Your gaffe could also provoke endless laughter for weeks to come, or you may look like a fool and find that you're the only one laughing. Whatever the case, you're not alone. But, it's still nice to know that others understand.

Share your cultural gaffe below, and entertain the rest of us . . .