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Common Cultural Mistakes While Traveling

Published March 4, 2013 by Tabby

This may come as a suprise, but other countries have different customs than we do in the United States. Some of these may be older but many are common. For those of you traveling abroad for Spring Break this is just a quick reminder of cultural faux pas. Please help fight the somewhat accurate stereotype of the stupid American.

This post is mostly from an article in Time and some additions from myself on common mistakes made while traveling. While these specific examples are helpful the overall point is that cultures different from our own exist. This does not make ours better and theirs worse so we need to be respectful when we travel. In addition, do a little research on these customs before traveling to a different country. It’s not that difficult, doesn’t take up too much time, and will save you from looking like just another “stupid American.”

 “World’s Worst Cultural Mistakes,” Time http://www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/worlds-worst-cultural-mistakes (accessed December 28, 2012).

 1. Touching Someone

It’s offensive in: Korea, Thailand, China, Europe, the Middle East

 Personal space varies as you travel the globe. In Mediterranean countries, if you refrain from touching someone’s arm when talking to them or if you don’t greet them with kisses or a warm embrace, you’ll be considered cold. But backslap someone who isn’t a family member or a good friend in Korea, and you’ll make them uncomfortable. In Thailand, the head is considered sacred—never even pat a child on the head. This is why international media viewed the hug between Michelle Obama and the Queen of England as a huge deal.

 What you should do instead: Observe what locals are doing and follow suit. In Eastern countries remember that touching and public displays of affection are unacceptable. In places like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, men and women are forbidden from interacting, let alone touching.

 2. The Use of Right and Left Hands

It’s offensive in: India, Morocco, Africa, the Middle East

 Many cultures still prefer to eat using traditional methods—their hands. In these cases, food is often offered communally, which is why it’s important to wash your hands before eating and observe the right-hand-is-for-eating and the left-hand-is-for-other-duties rule. The Romans used their right hands for eating and greeting while the left was used for personal hygiene. If you eat with your left hand, expect your fellow diners to be mortified. And when partaking from a communal bowl, stick to a portion that’s closest to you. Do not get greedy and plunge your hand into the center.

 What you should do instead: Left-handed? Attempt to be ambidextrous—even children who are left-handed in these cultures are taught to eat with their right hand—or at least explain yourself to your fellow diners before plunging in.

 3. Keeping Your Clothes On

It’s offensive in: Scandinavian countries, Turkey

 Wearing bathing suits, shorts and T-shirts, underwear, or any other piece of clothing into a sauna, hammam, or other place of physical purification. In some cultures, a steam room or a sauna is considered a place of purity and reflection, where the outside world (i.e., your clothes) should be left outside. In some Scandinavian countries it’s common for entire families to sauna together in the nude. Remember these people have different cultural standards regarding nudity than Americans. They will not sit and giggle at everyone’s parts. It’s like an everyday occurrence to them and serves as no big deal.

 What you should do instead: Sitting on a folded towel is considered acceptable. If you’re too modest to appear naked, strip down, but wrap yourself in a towel.

 4. Not Getting Lei’d

It’s offensive in: Hawaii

 It’s offensive to refuse or immediately remove a lei. Leis in the Hawaiian Islands aren’t just pretty floral necklaces that you get when you check into your hotel or show up at a luau. They’re a centuries-old cultural symbol of welcome, friendship, and appreciation.

 What you should do instead: Never refuse a lei—it’s considered highly disrespectful—or whip it off in the giver’s presence. If you’re allergic to the flowers, explain so, but offer to put it in some place of honor, say in the center of the table, or on a statue. Note that closed leis should be worn not hanging from the neck, but over the shoulder, with half draped down your chest and the other half down your back.

 5. Looking Someone in the Eye…or Not

It’s offensive to look someone in the eye in: Korea, Japan

It’s offensive not to look someone in the eye in: Germany, U.S.

 For Americans, not making direct eye contact can be considered rude, indifferent, or weak, but be careful how long you hold someone’s gaze in other countries. In some Asian nations, prolonged eye contact will make a local uncomfortable, so don’t be offended if you’re negotiating a deal with someone who won’t look you straight in the eye. As a tourist in Japan, the locals get obviously very uncomfortable with eye contact and some feel insulted.

 If toasting with friends in a German beer hall, your eyes had better meet theirs—if they don’t, a German superstition says you’re both in for seven years of bad luck in the bedroom.

 What you should do instead: Avoid constant staring and follow the behavior of your host—and by all means, look those Germans straight on.

 6. Drinking Alcohol the Wrong Way

It’s offensive in: Latin America, France, Korea, Russia

 Every culture has different traditions when it comes to drinking etiquette. Fail to consume a vodka shot in one gulp in Russia, and your host will not be impressed. Refill your own wine glass in France without offering more to the rest of the table, and you’ve made a faux pas. In Korea, women can pour only men’s drinks—not other women’s—and if you want a refill, you need to drain your glass. And if you’re in Latin America, never pour with your left hand—that’s bad luck.

 What you should do instead: Until you’re culturally fluent, leave it to your pals to pour.

 7. Blowing Your Nose

It’s offensive in: Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, France

 Some cultures find it disgusting to blow your nose in public—especially at the table. The Japanese and Chinese are also repelled by the idea of a handkerchief. As Mark McCrum points out in his book Going Dutch in Beijing, the Japanese word hanakuso unpleasantly means nose waste.

 What you should do instead: If traveling through Eastern and Asian countries, leave the hankies at home and opt for disposable tissues instead. In France as well as in Eastern countries, if you’re dining and need to clear your nasal passages, excuse yourself and head to the restroom. Worst-case scenario: make an exaggerated effort to steer away from the table. Let’s hope you don’t have a cold.

 8. Not Removing Your Shoes

It’s offensive in: Hawaii, the South Pacific, Korea, China, and Thailand

 Take off your shoes when arriving at the door of a London dinner party and the hostess will find you uncivilized, but fail to remove your shoes before entering a home in Asia, Hawaii, or the Pacific Islands and you’ll be considered disrespectful. Not only does shoe removal very practically keeps sand and dirt out of the house, it’s a sign of leaving the outside world behind.

 What you should do instead: If you see a row of shoes at the door, start undoing your laces. If not, keep the shoes on.

 9. Talking Over Dinner

It’s offensive in: Africa, Japan, Thailand, China, and Finland (mostly amongst traditionalist people)

 In some countries, like China, Japan, and some African nations, the food’s the thing, so don’t start chatting about your day’s adventures while everyone else is digging into dinner. You’ll likely be met with silence—not because your group is unfriendly, but because mealtimes are for eating, not talking. Also avoid conversations in places a country might consider sacred or reflective—churches in Europe, temples in Thailand, and saunas in Finland.

 What you should do instead: Keep quiet! Or if you are talking, keep in mind that other cultures do not speak loudly, even outside. Always use your inside voice!

 10. Road Rage

It’s offensive in: Hawaii, Russia, France, Italy…and pretty much everywhere else. Just ask yourself: do you really want to go to a foreign prison?

 Honk on Molokai or fail to pay a police officer a fine, a.k.a. bribe, on the spot when you’re stopped for speeding in Russia, and you’ll risk everything from scorn to prison time. Remember, too, that hand gestures have different meanings in other countries—a simple “thumbs-up” is interpreted as an “up yours” in parts of the Middle East.

 What you should do Instead: when driving abroad, make sure you have an international driver’s license; never, ever practice road rage; and keep your hands on the wheel. And, in general, don’t be a douche.

 10. Signing Off with a Kiss

It’s offensive in: potentially anywhere

 The ease and brevity of global e-mail has allowed us to dispense with formalities that we might use over the phone or in person, but beware being overly familiar when e-mailing overseas, or using e-speak or emoticons that might not translate, like BTW, TTFN, LOL, or 😉 or ;-/ to indicate winking or confusion. E-mail sign-offs can also give pause. Americans and Brits send the merest acquaintances messages ending with xxoo, which an Arab recipient might find shocking and offensive. Similarly, don’t think the Chinese are summoning the devil when departing with “666” (that’s good luck), or that a French or Dubai pal has made a typo with “Cdlt” (a shortcut for cordialement) or “Aa” (slang for the Arab greeting Assalamu alaikum).

 What you should do instead: Stick to words, keep it short and courteous, and unless you know the recipient well, hold back on the kisses and hugs.

 11. Speaking Loudly

It’s offensive in: Europe and several other countries

 How can you easily tell and American from a European on a sidewalk or subway? If you can hear them from twenty feet away. In Europe, people conduct conversations not in whispers but quieter than our often boisterous language. A full subway car will have several people carrying various conversations but the overall noise level will never reach higher than a dull buzz. They consider the louder conversations rude and interrupting. Have you ever experienced someone speaking loudly on a cell phone in a store or elevator? That’s how they view our sound level of conversation.

 What you should do instead: Be aware of your speaking volume. Remember to always use your “inside voice” and never yell across a street or subway care. Observe the people around you.

 If you avoid these and other faux pas, you will not only have a greater interaction with the locals but they will also be more willing to give you directions, show you around, and talk more. How would you like it if a foreign visitor rudely came into our towns and expected us to follow their customs?

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From Someone Who Likes Valentine’s Day

Published February 14, 2013 by Tabby

Happy Valentine’s Day

I previously wrote a blog post on why we hate Valentine’s Day and immediately set down to write why I love Valentine’s Day. Then I discovered, ‘hey, I really don’t.’ The thing I enjoy most about Valentine’s Day really isn’t about the holiday, it’s just that the holiday gives me a chance to do those things. My favorite part is having a holiday with just the two of us, without having to go out and be with other people. We get uninterrupted “us” time on our short weekend getaway. That is my absolute favorite part. But honestly we should show love and affection without having to have a holiday to force us to do so.

However, I found a cheekily written article by someone who does like the holiday itself and thought I would share it for the sake of festivity.

Jennifer Wright, “Why I Love Valentine’s Day and Why You Should Too,” The Gloss, http://www.thegloss.com/2011/02/09/sex-and-dating/why-i-love-valentines-day-and-you-should-too/ (accessed January 31, 2013).

“I love Valentine’s day. And no, I’m not just saying that due to a healthy  dose of iconoclasm.

Okay. I am a little bit, because I think there are too many spray-tanned   girls running around shrieking giddily about how they hate V-Day, and how it’s  just awful, and I  was to be different like Daria  and Wednesday  Addams. But I am sincere  in my love for Valentine’s Day.

Why?

Why not? It’s fantastic. It’s a holiday. Holidays by their very nature  mean  parties and drinking and having an excuse to dress up in unusual  outfits. Who  hates holidays? You see people running around bitching  about how much they hate  St. Patrick’s Day? Really? Who? Leprechauns?

On a personal, stupid level, I love Valentine’s day because pink is my   favorite color. Look, if you ever ask me my favorite color, I will stare  at you  like you’re a moron and reply “puce.” Real talk: I’m going to  lie to your face.  That’s because I know after a certain age it’s  ridiculous to have a favorite  color, but secretly, I do, and it’s pink. I  like it because it’s a happy,  cheerful color that reminds me of cupcake  frosting, and Funny Face and  the “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”  number. However, because I want to be  taken seriously if I ever go into  meetings, I generally wear gray, black or  navy blue dresses. Valentine’s Day is an excuse to break out my little pink  Jackie Kennedy dress, and  that’s enough for me. If nothing else happened, I’d  like it just on the  merit of that. I think a lot of people have a heart  necklace, or a red skirt, or something else they don’t break out daily that’s  appropriate for the occasion, and I like that.

But maybe you don’t think pink. That’s fine. Your loss, loser.

You like parties?

Oh, good, because one of your friends is having one! I almost guarantee  you  they are. Oh, for heaven’s sake, go check Facebook. Yes, you’re  invited. Go  there, dance on a Monday, buy some champagne ostensibly “for  the party” and  drink half of it yourself. Will it be fun? Yes, it will  be! You’ve got half a  bottle of Bolly in your belly, and it’s fine,  because even though it’s a  Monday, it’s also Valentine’s Day! Now get up  there and sing all the words to “Tonight I’m Fuckin’ You”!

Wait, you say you’re a hermit? Hey, that’s cool. Me too. Valentine’s  Day was  made for hermits like us! Why? Because this is the day that  you’re most likely  to have a romance start without having to endure any  manner of social  awkwardness. Like, normal outside non-lepers, they go  out to “the clubs” and… I  honestly have no idea. They do things, and  then they are dating people.

But hermits like us? We really have to wait  until someone sends us a 50 page “sonnet” (words written in crayon, blood, none of them rhyming) that likens us  to a minor  battle in the Peloponesian War (THIS IS A LOVE TIP FOR MEN READING  THIS  ARTICLE) before we can realize that they’re interested in us. There is a  higher than average possibility of this happening on Valentine’s Day. I’m not  saying it’s necessarily going to happen, but the odds are way better than they  are on your run of the mill day.

It’s a day full of a lot of possibilities, that’s what I’m saying.

And yes, the possibilities extend as much to single people as they do to  people in relationships. I think one of the principal complaints leveled against  Valentine’s dayis that it’s a holiday to make single people feel bad. No. It’s  not. It’s a holiday to boost sales for greeting card companies and florists – just like every other holiday. And, like every other holiday, it pretty  much is what you make it.

You’re worried that you’ll feel like a loser because no one gets you a card  or flowers? Jesus, God, do you have any idea how many people love you? If you  want some drugstore candy, just talk to your friends/family/fellow lepers  beforehand. Say you sort of want to celebrate. Or just slip them a note saying “you’re my Valentine now, bitch. Gird your loins. I’m buying you something  meaningless or edible.” Either way.

I have a pact with one of my friends that, regardless of whether we have  boyfriends/girlfriends, we are always each other’s Valentine. So we do something  to commemorate the day. Sometimes he gets me flowers, sometimes I rip off a  Barbie Doll’s head, hide her body in his apartment weeks beforehand with a heart  shaped piece of cardboard on which I’ve scrawled “You Make Me Lose My Head Like  Anne Boleyn.” Obviously, there are different ways to say “I Love You.” If you  have romantic love that is fantastic. That’s seriously great.  But romantic love  is just one piece of the love pie, not the crust,  filling and whipped cream on  top. There’s nothing wrong with a holiday that reminds us to say “I Love You” to  people we, you know, love. And it’s better when it’s an excuse for you to buy  them an ice cream cake which you will “share” with them.

Ultimately, Valentine’s Day is just another holiday. It’s supposed to be fun.  Figure out what will make it fun for you, and then do that. I can’t say what  that is, but I’m guessing ice cream cake and champagne is a good start.”

So to all, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Why are Holidays Difficult?

Published November 29, 2012 by Tabby

Usually around Thanksgiving until just after the New Year, I deal with depression far worse than any other time of the year. I am not anti-Christmas, contrary to popular belief. I’ve been pondering why the holidays are so difficult for me. In addition, I’ve included some tips that may help. What’s your way to remain calm throughout the holidays?

 1. Winter was not a good time for my ancestors

Several far gone ancestors suffered and died during the winter months. In my lifetime, the deaths of family members have mostly occurred in the latter portion of the year. Not only do I always lose at least one family member, I am reminded of who is missing at the family dinners.

 2. Stress

I take more anxiety medication during the holidays than any other time, including finals week of the semester. Deciding which family members to see when in a short amount of time prove the largest stress. I love seeing and visiting with family but it often results in logistical nightmares trying to get everyone’s schedule to agree. Then there are overnight accommodations and a resulting lack of sleep for two days. By the end of the three day holiday, I am exhausted and sleep deprived, haven’t had a moment to myself except for in the shower, and tired from resisting from being cranky. Holidays require an extra day in which to recover.

It is at this time that it becomes more than apparent that I am not Suzie Homemaker. I abhor cooking (but not baking), which the holiday seems to revolve around. On the other hand, I am very good at gift wrapping.

Gifting also makes me nervous. On the show The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon spazzes over gift giving, worrying that it will not be what the recipient wants, appropriate cost, etc. I have similar worries, especially living on a student budget.

On top of all the personal stress, I also use winter break as a time to complete school projects that would otherwise be impossible to complete during the regular semester. Because I am not enrolled in classes, most people do not understand that I still have work to do. As a result, I am seen as avoiding people.

 3. I am not a Christian         

As an Agnostic, Christmas is a time when I am bombarded with “Keep the Christ in Christmas,” tirades against the term “Xmas,” etc. While I am not opposed to Christianity, I do not appreciate it shoved down my throat for three months. And heaven forbid you mention Christmas came from a Pagan holiday. I have often wished to leave the country for a less religious one during this time.

 4. I remember the dreams not yet obtained

For some reason, my mind chooses the end of the year to analyze my life. Most often these thoughts go towards what I want that I still have yet to accomplish. Most of this involves anxiety as to how my personal life will turn out. I overanalyze personal relationships and their possibility in leading to a happy and fulfilling future.

 5. It’s frickin’ cold

I am a person that doesn’t handle cold temperatures well. I have Raynard’s Phenomenon, which is a fancy term for extremities that turn colors and experience frostbite at higher temperatures than normal people. So not only am I stressed, my skin is dry and itchy, my hands and feet are in constant pain. On the positive side, they turn pretty festive colors.

If it snows or ices, I am forced to remain in an apartment for multiple days, with or without power. While one snow day is amazing, after multiple days of the same 1,200 square foot hell, it starts to turn into a small scale version of The Shining. I’ve been so desperate to get out I’ve walked somewhere. The lack of sunlight is also not conducive to any kind of happiness.

 6. Unrealistic expectations and overcommercialization

Due to the millions of Hallmark commercials and displays, Norman Rockwell arts, Coca-Cola ads, we see Christmas as a perfect, nuclear family-oriented day. Kids will be polite and quiet, excited for their Christmas gifts. The adult women will be happy to spend all day in the kitchen while the men will sit calmly watching football. In the evening, the perfect dinner with perfect tableware will be served to a quiet, mingling family. And afterwards, the dishes magically disappear, the kids fall asleep with their new toys, and the adults share a small glass of wine while marveling at the glorious Christmas tree. This does not happen, at least as far as I know.

However, due to these expectations we are often a little disappointed and depressed with the way our Christmases actually turn out. Maybe we have to spend the majority of time traveling between divorced parents, distanced siblings, or keeping some family members from killing others. Some relative will ask the embarrassing and inappropriate questions of ‘why aren’t you married?’ ‘Why don’t you have kids,” or ‘You’ve gained weight.’ This will also cause an acceleration of reason number four. ‘Yes, I’m not married, thanks for pointing that out.’

The “holiday blues” affect many people. If you have a family or friend that may seem a little more blue than normal, don’t simply call them a Grinch. They may be dealing with more than you know.

 Suggestions to prevent holiday stress and depression

 1. Snuggies, blankets, portable heaters, fireplaces, and hot chocolate

            Comfy conditions definitely help, especially when it’s cold outside

2. Make realistic expectations for the holiday season

            It is what it is.

3. Pace yourself. Do not take on more responsibilities than you can handle.

            Learn to say no. And don’t feel guilty about it-you are only human.

4. Live in the moment, focus on the “right now”

            Rather than the fourteen million things you need to do, enjoy whatever is happening

5. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and sadness by comparing today with the “good old days” of the past.

6. Find holiday activities that are free

Look at at holiday decorations, go window shopping. You could also have movie or video game marathons.

7. Limit your consumption of alcohol         

Alcohol is a depressant. Excessive drinking will only increase your feelings of depression.

8. Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way

            But don’t get too excited until you have the agreement of your significant other/family. Some are not as open to changing their holidays or creating new ones.

9. Spend time with supportive and caring people.

10. Make time for yourself!

“Me” time reduces the homicide rate

11. Let others share the responsibilities of holiday tasks

12. Keep track of your holiday spending

Overspending can lead to depression when the bills arrive after the holidays are over. Extra bills with little budget to pay them can lead to further stress and depression.

13. Be crafty!

I find that doing a craft, which can be holiday oriented or not, can be very relaxing. Then you can give away your crafts as gifts. One year I made ornaments. I have also gotten together with a friend and made our Christmas crafts together.

14. Remember the holidays will end

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