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Posted By P & L Blog


Planning for Thanksgiving dinner got me thinking about manners and how they differ from one country to another. 

In Spain, hands are kept on the table throughout the meal, with the wrists resting on the edge of the table. Pizza, sandwiches, and toast are eaten with a knife and fork.  Fruit, a common dessert, is peeled with a table knife before eating.  Oh, and  expect comments if you eat "like an American" ie., switching your fork from right to left to cut food.  Spaniards eat with the fork in their left hand, even if they are not lefties.

If you host a dinner party in Mexico, expect your guests to arrive at least 30 minutes late, if not closer to an hour.  I had heard about this before I moved there but I didn't really believe it.  It's true.  Keep your hands on the table here, too.

The British use a fork with the tines facing down.  I've seen several different theories about why they do this but I think it has something to do with their fondness for peas.  It is easier to get peas on to the back of a fork with a gentle nudge from a knife than it is with the tines up.

The Chinese eat with chopsticks in their right hand, even if they are left-handed.  Making slurping or burping noises is not considered rude, it means that someone is enjoying their meal.  If you are seated at the children's table on Thanksgiving Day, explain this Chinese custom and you'll have a table full of snorters and belchers. You'll be very popular.  With the kids.

Contrary to popular belief, Italians do not swirl their spaghetti in a spoon.  Never cut your pasta; pasta is eaten only with a fork.  Even though spaghetti lends itself to inadvertent slurping, do not make any noises while you eat.   Don't be tempted to try it with children; table manners are important in Italy and children are taught them from a very young age.

Have you come across interesting and different manners in other cultures?


Posted By P & L Blog

French sign


In an Op Ed piece in the New York Times, William Chase shares some tips on how people communicate when they live and work abroad.  A friend had asked him if he should take French lessons prior to a posting in Paris.  Chase's answer?  An emphatic oui.  He points out that any attempt at speaking the language of your host country will create good will with native speakers, even if they speak your language.

Imagine living in another country for three years and never learning the language.  You couldn't listen to local radio stations, go to the movies, buy a magazine, chat with the cheese monger, or understand the waiter in a restaurant.  If not speaking the language means you are living in a bubble, is the move worth it?


Photo by Joe Shlabotnik under Creative Commons license.

Posted By P & L Blog


Did you know that the way people count money varies from place to place?  Not everyone holds cash in their left hand and moves it to their right as most Canadians, Brits and Americans do (I'm left-handed and I do it from right to left).  Watch "How people count cash" to see some seriously creative cash counting.



 Photo by Andres Rueda. Licensed by Creative Commons.

Posted By P & L Blog

Talking on her cell phone


Is the widespread popularity of typing on computers and writing and reading cell phone novels (keitai shosetsu) making Japanese easier to learn?  Do you agree with Haruki Murakami's comments in the latest issue of the New York Times Book Review?

“My personal view on the Japanese language (or any language) is, If it wants to change, let it change. Any language is alive just like a human being, just like you or me. And if it’s alive, it will change. Nobody can stop it.” There is no such thing as simplification of language, he added. “It just changes for better or worse (and nobody can tell if it is better or worse).”

Has technology changed your language?


Photo by scion cho. Licensed by Creative Commons.

Posted By P & L Blog

Frank Sinatra

Was Frank Sinatra right when he said that "orange is the happiest color"?  You probably wouldn't agree with him if you were a Catholic in Northern Ireland where the color has long been associated with Protestant loyalists.  The colors you use in your overseas marketing materials may send the wrong message if you don't know what they mean locally. 

Black is not always the color of mourning.  Koreans, Vietnamese and Chinese associate white with death and grief, and Indians may wear white after a family member dies.  

Thinking of going green? Westerners equate it with eco-friendly products, but it translates to a symbol of sickness in some Asian countries.   Some Colombians think it is just plain ugly.

We use red in warnings and alerts, but brides in China wear red wedding dresses because the color signifies joy and good fortune.  The Chinese word for red sounds like "hong", the word for prosperous. 

Diana Vreeland, a former editor of Vogue, said that pink is "the navy blue of India" because it is so widely worn.  It brings to mind Hello Kitty, Barbie and those ubiquitous pink ribbons in the U.S.  But pink may not be a safe choice: pink roses symbolize suffering and even death in Greek mythology, and pink beads represent poverty to Zulus.

As for orange, in feng shui it represents organization and concentration. For Hindus, it is a sacred color word by swamis. Orange is said to stimulate mental activity because it increases oxygen supply to the brain.  It reminds me of safety cones, Halloween, and anything cheap. How does it make you feel?



Xerox's International Color Guide can prevent you from making serious cultural blunders.



 Photo by Lewy. Licensed by Creative Commons.






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