Tips for what to avoid
Using rude hand gestures: Unless you are counting on your fingers, avoid any hand gestures that you think could be potentially offensive to other cultures so you don't unintentionally offend someone.
Touching: Many cultures, including the U.S., southern European, and some Latin American cultures, are comfortable with back pats or having an arm, elbow, or shoulder touched. However, this might be uncomfortable and inappropriate for people from other cultures.
Appearing self-important: Although the United States is known to prize self-confidence and the entrepreneurial spirit, some cultures—including many in Europe and Asia—prefer a more humble, group-oriented approach in their communication style
Asking personal questions: When in doubt, it's safest to wait to ask personal questions (about family, etc.) until someone poses these kinds of questions to you first.
Discussing religion: It's safest to avoid touching on the topic of religion, unless the other person brings it up first. There is always a chance that religious prejudice could be a problem.
Discussing politics: It's advisable to keep politics, global affairs, and even a country's economic condition out of the conversation—again, unless the other person brings it up first.
Unintentionally causing embarrassment: People are embarrassed by different things in different cultures. Doing your research on the potentially embarrassing factors of specific cultures beforehand will help you avoid this.
Showing the soles of your shoes: This may seem like a strange one, but showing the sole of your shoe is offensive in many cultures, including the Middle East and parts of Asia.
Saying "no": Many cultures, including the Asian and some Latin American cultures, consider saying "no" directly to be impolite. If pushed for a firm "no," they will become very uncomfortable.
When it comes to cultural etiquette, no one expects perfection. Awareness is the first step in bridging the cultural gap. A little advance preparation and being observant will likely help you figure out most of what you need to know. If you enjoy working with or visiting other cultures, they are likely to enjoy the same with you!
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Gayle Cotton is the author of the book "Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys To Successful Cross-Cultural Communication." She is President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. and an internationally recognized authority on Cross-Cultural Communication. For more information, please visit www.GayleCotton.com