This was the response I received after talking about the different people I met during a trip to Austria. Why do the French get such a bad rap? A quick Google search of “rude countries” led me to “The Worlds Rudest Nations for Travelers” in Forbes magazine. There it was – France was ranked number one with USA scoring seventh on the same list. Apparently, the members of this poll haven’t spent a mid-August day in Manhattan! What’s behind this perception of French rudeness? Truly, it’s purely a matter of cultural difference. If a Parisian doesn’t return your smile or spark up a conversation with you, it’s not rude it’s just… well… normal behavior. Returning that garish smile and opening up to a complete stranger may be considered normal behavior to an American, but to the French, it is likely to be seen as an outright sexual invitation.
Cultural sensitivity might not be something that we are forced to think about on a daily basis, but it is something of which we should all be aware. While it’s true that some people can be just plain rude, many times there is a gap between what you perceive as normal behavior and what someone else’s culture dictates as normal.
In consideration of how this can affect the Widener community, we should always be aware of our own responses to what we may initially perceive as rude behavior. Our campuses have a wide variety of ethnicities represented by students and faculty alike. Additionally, Widener offers many service learning opportunities both at home and abroad. These opportunities will surely be enriched with a little preparation and research about the cultures with which you will be interacting.
Okay, try out this scenario spun off of the ‘3 guys walk into a bar’ joke:
A group consisting of 3 men (German, Muslim and Greek) and two women (Taiwanese and Hindu) walk into a bar. The Russian bartender bids everyone a welcome and pours each of them a shot of vodka. The German accepts the vodka, puts his feet up on the table because he was welcomed so warmly and downs the shot. The Greek is hungrier than he is thirsty so he goes to the happy hour buffet and grabs a piece of pizza topped with meatballs. The Taiwanese woman does the same- eating it with her hands. Upon finishing the slice, she smiles and lets out a loud belch. The Hindu woman doesn’t want to refuse the vodka since it was offered to her for free so she sips lightly at the shot glass. A slightly inebriated American man at the bar wants to join in on the party and portray himself as a friendly ambassador of our country. He approaches them waving his hand with a hearty “Hello everyone” and firmly shakes each person’s hand slapping them on the shoulder with his left hand.
So how many cultural faux pas did you spot? The answers will be revealed in the comments section below next month. Until then, please feel free to comment on what you think was culturally acceptable and not acceptable. Oh- and feel free to include any stories on your experiences with cultural insensitivity.
By the way, in the scenario above, every single person in the room has a right to be offended!
If you would like some clues to the above conundrum: