The World Beyond Words

by Deb Cummings and Andrea Lee Morrow

Magazine  |  Fall/Winter 2018  |  Mind and Body

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How to Walk and Talk Like a Local

Manners matter in all countries, but cultural missteps can be deal-killers or cause you to miss out on a meaningful connection. Here are 10 cultural faux pas to avoid while visiting 10 countries — many with which UCalgary has partnerships or shares business.

Chewing gum. Giving a thumbs-up. Writing on business cards. Eating with your left hand. These gestures may seem entirely benign, but in some places they are frowned upon — some are even actually against the law — and what you don’t want is to get tossed into some foreign slammer when travelling abroad. UCalgary’s International Relations Department takes the understanding of diverse cultures, customs and perspectives very seriously — which is precisely why they’ve created a beefy primer on how to avoid making offensive cultural blunders. Take a peek. Just don’t pat someone’s head while doing so, especially if you’re in India, where it’s considered offensive! 

Germany

Germany

Nowhere in the world is punctuality more esteemed than in Germany. Be on time for every appointment, whether for business or social engagements.

Middle East

Middle East

Remember that the left hand is considered unclean in the Islamic world. When travelling, even in many non-Islamic areas of Africa and Asia, use the right hand — especially when it comes to eating.

Mexico

Mexico

Try to make appointments between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. That’s because meetings can often take longer than two hours and business may only occupy a small portion of this time. Developing a relationship on a personal level is key to conducting business in Mexico.

JAPAN

Japan

The exchange of meishi or business cards is critical in Japan. Typically, business cards are presented at the beginning of a meeting led by the people who enjoy the highest status. Use both hands to present the card. When you receive a business card, examine it carefully and avoid writing on it.

India

India

When an Indian smiles and wobbles
his head, which may look somewhat like a Western “no,” do not be fooled. This gesture likely means “yes.”

China

China

The number eight is the luckiest number, as well as six. Even numbers are preferred (except four).

Singapore

Singapore

Never, ever, chew gum in Singapore — it is illegal.

UCalgary International

UCalgary International

hosts international visitors, university delegations, government officials and dignitaries each year. It also helps faculty and staff develop campus itineraries and organize meetings and seminars for international visitors and advise on various cross-cultural matters — culturally appropriate gifts, forms of address and country-specific recommendations. 

Learn more

Iran

Iran

Refrain from giving anyone a thumbs-up, as it is equivalent to the middle finger in the Western world.

Brazil

Brazil

If you spot a Brazilian flicking their fingertips underneath their chin, realize they don’t know the answer to your question.

United States

United States

Like most things in America, greetings are quite informal. This is just a manifestation of the American belief that everyone is equal. 

Magazine  |  Fall/Winter 2018  |  Mind and Body

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