Recently, we told you about Learning About Cultures’ cultural guides. On their website are a list of culture-related questions you can answer to see how well you think you know a destination. Here are 5 random questions from their site, so you can gauge for yourself if you’re a Culture King — or a Culture Dunce. Answers follow the questions.
South Africa: You, Mr. Smith, are introduced to Mm. Mbube, and she simply stands there with a demure smile, even though you clearly extended your hand to her. Is she intentionally being unfriendly?
Indonesia: You accidentally walk into your colleague’s office mid-day and observe he is praying. What should you do?
Greece: You are standing on the street corner in Athens and suddenly see your Greek friend across the street; you raise your hand in greeting, and he sees you, but instead of looking pleased, he looks angry, and turns and walks the other way. Did you do something wrong?
Costa Rica: You really don’t like the strong black coffee your Tico hosts have been serving, almost non-stop. But you are afraid of hurting their feelings if you refuse the next cup. What to do?
Russia: Your Russian colleague makes a toast in your honor, and you raise the glass of vodka to your lips. You glance down into the shot glass, and quickly gulp the fiery liquid down. You look up only to find your Russian hosts looking disapprovingly back at you. What did you do wrong?
Bonus…US: At your meeting in Dallas, your Texan associate grabs your hand forcefully, slaps you on the back, smiles broadly and calls you by your nickname. But you’ve only just met! How do you respond?
South Africa: Traditional South African women do not shake hands, or in any other way touch, men, even in business, especially in public. Simply continue your discussions with her.
Indonesia: If you accidentally interrupt a Muslim colleague during prayer time, just quietly excuse yourself. Be respectful of prayer times, and be flexible about allowing people their time to pray. It only takes a few minutes, and you may depend upon your Muslim colleagues to return from their “time out” soon. Many Western organizations in Indonesia provide for a prayer room for these purposes.
Greece: Raising your hand so that the open palm is facing outward in Greece is a very aggressive and negative gesture. Avoid it.
Costa Rica: Some consider Costa Rican coffee the finest in the world; certainly Costa Ricans do. It is impolite under any circumstances to refuse this hospitality. If you’ve had more than your share of caffeine for the day, allow your cup to be filled anyway, and raise it to your lips from time to time. You do not have to drink it.
Russia: When a toast is made, either by or to you, from the moment you lift your glass off the table to the moment you place it back down, you must never break eye contact with your Russian colleagues. To do so is insulting.
US: Americans can be especially informal. They are comfortable assuming familiarity, even when it may not, in fact, exist. They use first names quickly, and disdain demonstration of deference to positions and rank.