Identifying and Solving Cross-Cultural Mistakes

The second tip in a series of Tips on How to Broach Delicate Topics is to: 
Compare and contrast cultural dos and don'ts (Identify social gaffes)

Nobody wants others talking behind our back saying we messed up. We prefer to make a good impression from the get-go when going abroad, or hope when we make a mistake, someone is brave enough to address it and applogize so we can try to do it right next time. These exercises will help us think about the social blunders differently.

Trainees can identify these social indiscretions in one of three ways:

1. Mistakes they have seen foreigners do in their country.
What made these social blunders wrong? How did they understand this blunder? Were they offended or were their feelings hurt? How did they navigate this in the meeting with the foreigner? Did they have any chance to help the foreigner overcome this problem and learn the local etiquette?

2. Mistakes they have made abroad.

Everyone wants to make a good impression abroad. How did they know they goofed up or made a cultural slip-up? How did they fix the problem? Were they able to use their new behaviors to impress someone else in the new culture? How was the experience? How did it feel to think and/or behave differently? How did it feel to get the response from the mistake then the correct behavior?

3. Mistakes made at home.
We can learn a lot about how to adjust to etiquette adjustments abroad by how we adjusted to applying new etiquette in our own culture or country. For instance, when we got our first job we probably had to learn how to dress to suit that company’s policy, or we adapted phraseology of that company, or we had inside jokes based on that company’s culture and our work experiences there. Similarly, these experiences can be transferred to adjusting to etiquette in other cultures.

The trainer can take this information and direct conversations to cross-cultural etiquette tips based on the country the cultural training is based on. The discussion can also be directed toward personal development. If we know how it feels to make social gaffes – which can be made at home as well as abroad- we will have more empathy for newcomers, forgive their indiscretions and even provide help to them to be better understood and make a better impression the next time. When we learn new etiquette tips in our own or other cultures we will learn a general rule to which we can apply with our own personality or style so we do not lose our identity. This of course takes time, and more comfort and tenderness with ourselves to learn the best ways to fit in.

Thank you, Beth Cauvel, Project Coordinator from the Study Abroad Office at Shepherd University, USA for this tip.

End of Tip #2.
<--Read Tip #1 - How it's done abroad.



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