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How to Be Polite in 20 Different Countries

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How to Be Polite in 20 Different Countries

If you’ve done any traveling at all, you’re likely quite aware that customs and etiquette differ from one culture to another: what may be perfectly innocuous in one place may be hideously offensive in another, and vice-versa. Granted, even if you haven’t traveled at all, you’re probably aware of the fact that certain types of behavior aren’t exactly acceptable in other countries: belching at the table may be a sign of gratitude in some places, but in most areas of North America and Europe, such a display will earn you a fair bit of ire. Whether you plan on traveling to any of the places listed below or just doing business with a foreign client, it’s important to educate yourself on the standards of politesse and etiquette beforehand—the last thing you want to do is offend someone with any ignorant, boorish behavior. Here’s how to be polite in 20 different countries:

Japan

When dealing with Japanese clients, be sure to dress fairly conservatively, and make sure that you bow lower than they do upon meeting them. Accept gifts with both hands (and open them later, not in front of the giver), and never blow your nose at the dining table. Avoid asking and answering direct questions: it’s better to imply rather than ask, and to answer with vagueness during conversations.

Sweden

Keep personal distance and don’t touch people when you talk to them. Ensure proper table manners, never discuss religion or politics, and try to maintain a level of quiet dignity. Silences during conversations are not considered uncomfortable, and it’s better to be a bit quiet, rather than overly verbose. When dining out, don’t drink before the host offers a toast, and don’t get drunk.

Mexico

When meeting others, women should initiate handshakes with men, but all people should avoid making too much eye contact; that can be seen as aggressive and belligerent behavior. If sharing a meal with others, keep your elbows off the table and try to avoid burping at all costs. Keep your hands off your hips, and make sure you never make the “okay” sign with your hand: it’s vulgar.

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Kenya

When greeting someone older or of a higher status than yourself, grip their right wrist with your left hand while shaking it; it’s a sign of respect and deference. Do ask questions about their health, family, business etc. before getting to major topics, as skipping these niceties is seen as impolite. If sharing meals, do not begin eating until the eldest male has been served and starts to eat.

Jordan

Keep your voice low and quiet when conversing with others, as that is seen as being mature and respectful. Be aware that people will speak to you at a closer distance than you may be used to, and you may be touched on the arm or shoulder during conversation. Polite jokes are acceptable, as is inquiring about family members. Never show the bottoms of your shoes.

Germany

Much like Scandinavian people, Germans tend to be reserved and polite. Ensure that handshakes are firm, and always address people with Mr. or Mrs. followed by their surname (“Herr” or “Frau” if you’re confident that you’ll pronounce them well). Decent table manners are of great importance, and be sure to say “please” and “thank you” often.

China

Be generous with saying “thank you” when someone does anything from pouring you tea to offering you a gift, and if or when you receive a gift, take it with both hands. If someone makes a comment about your weight/appearance/idiosyncrasy, try not to take it as offensive: it’s merely an observation on their part.

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Barbados

Years of British rule in Barbados established a high degree of politesse, so be sure to greet people as Mr./Mrs./Miss and say “please” and “thank you” often. Formal table manners are a must, as is modest dress anywhere but at the beach. Avoid discussing religion and politics, and stick to neutral-yet-friendly topics of conversation with others.

Pakistan

Be sure to dress modestly (especially if you’re female), and if you go out for a meal, eat with your right hand; the left is considered unclean. Sit on your left hand if you need to, but keep it away from your food. Don’t show anyone the bottom of your shoe, and try not to touch anyone with your feet.

France

Be sure to say “please” and “thank you” often, and always thank people for their time. If you need help at a shop, apologize to the staff for bothering them with a question, and be sure to thank them before you leave. Make sure that you chew with your mouth closed during meals, don’t speak when your mouth is full, and for goodness’ sake, don’t slurp anything!

Korea

Don’t be offended if a Korean woman merely nods instead of offering her hand to shake, and don’t extend yours to her. Never touch a Korean person while talking to them (unless you’re on very friendly terms), and maintain a respectable distance: personal space is rather vital. Try to avoid talking too much during meals, and offer to pay even if you know that the other party is treating you.

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Argentina

This is another country in which people will lean in close when they speak to you, and touch you often during a conversation. Pulling away is considered rude and “cold”, so be prepared to sacrifice your own personal space for the sake of social courtesy. Maintain strong eye contact, and don’t put your hands on your hips.

The Netherlands

Shake hands with everyone, ensuring that you smile and make eye contact while doing so. Make appointments for meetings and social functions well in advance (like, a couple of weeks in advance), and be punctual when you show up. Feel free to bring gifts such as chocolate or flowers when visiting people.

Russia

Turning down an alcoholic drink is considered terribly offensive in Russia, so it’s a good idea to fortify yourself with some greasy food before heading out for a meal with Russian or Ukrainian clients. Don’t smile at strangers or they’ll think you’re deranged, and when paying for items, place your money on the counter rather than trying to hand it directly to the cashier.

Canada

Canadians are (for the most part) polite, respectful, and fairly reserved people. It’s important to remember social niceties such as saying “please” and “thank you” when dealing with them, and if you open doors for people and offer firm handshakes, you’re sure to stay in the good books. When ordering food or drinks, never begin with “I want…,” as it’s considered rude and ignorant to do so.

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Italy

Dress formally and respectably in churches and upscale restaurants, and ensure that your table manners are impeccable. Be punctual, always be generous with social niceties, and under no circumstances should you ever be drunk in public. Say “please” often, and if possible, try to make at least a bit of an effort to learn a few Italian words and phrases.

Nepal

It’s best to dress modestly when traveling around Nepal, and if you end up exchanging gifts with others, never do so with your left hand. When it comes to sharing meals, use utensils so you avoid contaminating anything with implements that may have touched your mouth, and take care to remove your shoes upon entering someone’s home, or a temple.

Israel

Greet people with a warm handshake and ready smile, and invite them to address you by your first name. Don’t be offended if someone shows up 15 to 20 minutes late, or if they take phone calls during your meeting with them. If asked personal questions, answer with generalizations. If you’re male, don’t speak to another man’s wife if she hasn’t been introduced to you.

The U.K.

Like in Canada, people in the United Kingdom tend to be fairly polite and reserved. Possibly more so. Be very courteous in your speech, never address anyone by their given name unless invited to do so (always address them as Mr./Mrs./Miss followed by their surname to begin with), and ensure that you use proper table manners when sharing meals.

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Brazil

Smile often, don’t be afraid to touch others during conversation, and be generous with the “thumbs-up” sign. Avoid the “okay” gesture (it’s offensive), and if you eat a sandwich, use a napkin to hold it rather than your bare hands. Don’t use a toothpick without covering your mouth with your free hand, and if you’re going to wear a tiny string Speedo on the beach, be sure to strut around in it.

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Catherine Winter

Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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