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How to Be Polite in 20 Different Countries

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.

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 February 11, 2021

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

Perceptual Barrier

The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

Attitudinal Barrier

Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

Language Barrier

This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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Emotional Barrier

Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

Cultural Barrier

Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

Gender Barrier

Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

Reference

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