Cultural sensitivity and conference travel

My dentist told me all about her trip to Dubai for a dental conference when she was replacing a crown. Although my questioning capabilities were hampered by a few dentist gadgets, I wanted to get her impressions. It’s a habit. Whenever anyone tells me of a trip, I want the details.

Heading to a conference in Dubai was not like heading to a conference to many places. Before she arrived in Dubai, there was some cultural sensitivity training about how to dress as a female and how to talk with men. Since she couldn’t quite remember the details, and she wasn’t there for a long enough time to catch on to the nuances of the culture, she didn’t look up at the men at all. She figured that was the easiest tactic. Despite that, she enjoyed the experience and was happy she went.

Her details about discomfort with cultural differences reminded me of when my husband accompanied a delegation of employees of a battery company in Hsinchu, Taiwan to CeBIT trade show in Hanover, Germany. He sort of went along to help them with their English. They weren’t quite so interested in seeing Germany on their moments off since they wanted to eat instant noodles and pocket their per diem, so my husband went off to see some sights in Hanover his own.

The only time he really had to help the people he was sent to help out navigate the culture had to do with toilet paper use. In Taiwan you don’t put toilet paper in the toilet, you put it in a trash can. The plumbing can’t handle the paper, I was told. The guest house owner where they were staying pulled my husband aside, made a face, and asked him why people weren’t flushing the toilet paper but putting it in the “bin.” “Oh, I’ll take care of it,” my husband said. My husband told the leader to tell everyone else to not put their toilet paper in the trash anymore. Goodwill was redeemed with each flush afterward.