We are all born with some traits that are attributable to our genes, as we have no control over them. The colour of my hair, my height, my complexion and so much more can safely be attributed to the genes that have been passed over centuries through a lineage of generations,. So if George Bush is tall and fair and the Chinese president is short and yellow, it’s neither to their credit nor to their discredit. Now comes the second set of traits, that I am going to talk about, the sanskaaraas, or the sets of beliefs and values that we form over a period of time as we grow up. Some of these traits are sculptured by the society that we live in, including our family, school, region or the nation.

Over a period of time many of these beliefs and values get our personal approval and become our personality traits. Cross cultural sensitivity is looking beyond these personality traits using empathy and sensitivity. It is ensuring that as we crisscross across the vast canvas of the global village, that this world is today, we do not offend the sensitivities of friends from other cultures, not even unintentionally. Over here ignorance is certainly not a bliss. For not offending people on issues related to their cultural or personal beliefs, we need to look beyond our narrow perspectives and learn about the social beliefs and values, specially the way they are projected or perceived in other societies. For this we need to know about other cultures and study them with some respect. Its all about learning that a loud and a noisy conversation between a group in Britain could be considered out rightly outrageous and rude, Where as in Punjab it could be considered a symbol of a clear heart, honest intention and warmth. The consideration of personal space and many other factors is of paramount importance. For example in the Arab world a man pecking another man on the cheek is respectful and warm where as in USA it could mean a gay relation. Cross cultural sensitivity can only be effectively understood and learnt, if we are ready to learn about other cultures with an open mind. We should never judge people or other cultures being right or wrong in light of our beliefs and traditions, but should judge them, only and only, in the light of their own traditions, social restrains and vistas.
Not understanding or respecting these issues can embarrass any one, even the president of America.
Here I present to you two photographs. One of the Chinese head of state visiting America And the second is that of our Georgy boy visiting China. I don’t need to say more on this, The two pictures will tell you the rest of the story.

When the chinese leader visited America, President George Bush thought it's important to let the first lady of China know, how much the Americans appericiate her coming along with her husband.
All that he wanted to say was,
"Mrs President, We are warm people out here,Thanks for coming."
But the Chinese president was not pleased. When Bush went to China, all that he seemed to be telling Bush was,"Hey, lay of my wife man, What sort of a man are you? Not her again. Stay away buddy".

The issue of understanding the cross cultural differences is very important as one man's meat is truly another man's poison when it comes to personal beliefs coming out of social beliefs and values.

Let us consider the issues of meeting and introducing people, giving gifts and some of the dining manners of just a few countaries.

For this article I have picked up Afghanistan, Japan, Germany, America, England, China and India. We will see that there is a lot in common amongst different and diverse cultuers, but some of the differences if not taken in to notice will seem unpolite, outrightly rude or even can put the host , guest or both of them in an embrassing situation. The study of different cultures is therefore very important.

In Afghanistan, When two or more people meet they place their hands over their hearts and nod slightly as a symbol of respect. One should always enquire about things like a person's health, family, etc first. Never shake hands with women and do not speak directly to them. Eye contact with women should be avoided and eye contact with men also should not be prolonged as it is considered rude. It is best to only occasionally look someone in the eyes. When it comes to gifts, never give alcohol, however, if you know that the receiver drinks the gift should be covert to avoid embarrassing the receiver. First time you go to someone's house for tea, it is appropriate to bring a small gift but If you are invited to lunch or dinner, bring fruit, sweets or pastries. Make sure the box is wrapped nicely. When bringing a gift be subtle in how it is given. Do not immediately give the present but rather discreetly place it near the door or where you sit down. When it comes to wrapping gifts there is no special protocol. Green is good for weddings.

In Japan things are very formal and ritualized. It is important to show the correct amount of respect and deference to someone based upon their status relative to your own. If at all possible, wait to be introduced. It is impolite to introduce yourself even in a large gathering. While foreigners are expected to shake hands, the traditional form of greeting is the bow. How far you bow depends upon your relationship to the other person as well as the situation. The deeper you bow, the more respect you show. Giving gifts is ritualistic and meaningful. The ceremony of presenting the gift and the way it is wrapped is as important--sometimes more important--than the gift itself. The gift need not be expensive. Good quality chocolates or small cakes are good ideas. Do not give white flowers, lilies, camellias or lotus blossoms as they are associated with funerals. Do not give potted plants as they encourage sickness, although a bonsai tree is always acceptable. Give items in odd numbers, other than 9. Have it wrapped in pastel colors. Gifts are not opened when received.
When invited to a Japanese house remove your shoes before entering and put on the slippers left at the doorway. Leave your shoes pointing away from the doorway you are about to walk through. Arrive on time or no more than 5 minutes late if invited for dinner. Unless you have been told the event is casual, dress formally. If you must go to the toilet, put on the toilet slippers and remove them when you are finished. When dining in Japan wait to be told where to sit. There is a protocol to be followed. The honored guest or the eldest person will be seated in the centre of the table the furthest from the door. The guest of honor or the eldest is the first person to begin eating. It will yield tremendous dividends if you learn to use chopsticks. Do not pierce your food with chopsticks. Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak. Do not cross your chopsticks when putting them on the chopstick rest. Place bones on the side of your plate. Try a little bit of everything. It is acceptable to ask what something is and even to make a face if you do not like the taste. Don't be surprised if your Japanese colleagues slurp their noodles and soup. Mixing other food with rice is usually not done. You eat a bit of one and then a bit of the other, but they should never be mixed together as you do in India or many Western countries. If you do not want anything more to drink, do not finish what is in your glass. An empty glass is an invitation for someone to serve you more. When you have finished eating, place your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or on the table. Do not place your chopsticks across the top of your bowl. If you leave a small amount of rice in your bowl, you will be given more. To signify that you do not want more rice, finish every grain in your bowl.

In Germany for that matter a quick and a firm handshake is the traditional greeting. Titles are very important and denote respect. Use a person's title and their surname until invited to use their first name. You should say Herr or Frau before a person's title or their surname. In general, wait for your host or hostess to introduce you to a group. When entering a room, shake hands with everyone individually, including children. If you are invited to a German's house, bring a gift such as chocolates or flowers. Yellow roses or tea roses are always well received. Do not give red roses as they symbolize romantic intentions. Do not give carnations as they symbolize mourning. Do not give lilies or chrysanthemums as they are used at funerals. If you bring wine, it should be imported, French or Italian. Giving German wines is viewed as meaning you do not think the host will serve a good quality wine. Gifts are usually opened when received.
When invited to a German's house Arrive on time as punctuality indicates proper planning. Never arrive early or never arrive more than 15 minutes late. Send a handwritten thank you note the following day to thank your hostess for her hospitality. At the table, remain standing, until invited to sit down, and sit where where you are asked to sit. Table manners are Continental -- the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating. Do not begin eating until the hostess starts or someone says 'guten appetit' (good appetite). At a large dinner party, wait for the hostess to place her napkin in her lap before doing so yourself. Do not rest your elbows on the table. Do not cut lettuce in a salad. Fold it using your knife and fork. Finish everything on your plate. Bread should be broken apart by hand. Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate, with the fork over the knife.

In America the greetings are casual. A handshake, a smile, or a 'hello' is all that is needed.
Use first names, and be sure to introduce everyone to each other. When invited to someone's home for dinner, it is polite to bring a small box of good chocolates, a bottle of wine, a potted plant or flowers for the hostess.
Gifts are normally opened when received. On the table the manners are more relaxed in the U.S. than in many other countries. The fork is held in the right hand and is used for eating and is held tines up. The knife is used to cut or spread something. To use the knife, the fork is switched to the left hand and held tines down. To continue eating, the fork is switched tines up to the right hand. If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife. Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate. If you are more comfortable eating in the Continental manner, go ahead. It will not offend anyone. Feel free to refuse specific foods or drinks without offering an explanation. Many foods are eaten by hand. Food is often served family-style, which means that it is in large serving dishes and passed around the table for everyone to serve themselves. Do not begin eating until the host starts Remain standing until invited to sit down. Do not rest your elbows on the table. Put your napkin in your lap as soon as you sit down.

In England a handshake is the common form of greeting. Prolonged eye contact makes people feel uncomfortable. There is still some protocol to follow when introducing people in a business or more formal social situation, always introduce a younger person to an older person and introduce the one you know better to the other person. The gift if given need not be expensive, but should demonstrate an attempt to find something of the recipient’s interest. If invited to someone's home, it is normal to take along a box of good chocolates, a good bottle of wine or flowers. Gifts are opened when received. Table manners are Continental, the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right and the fork is held tines down so food is scooped on to the back of the fork. This is a skill that takes time to master. It is better to remain standing until invited to sit down. Do not ever rest your elbows on the table. If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife. Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate. When in a pub, it is common practice to pay for a round of drinks for everyone in your group. If invited to a meal at a restaurant, the person extending the invitation usually pays. Do not argue about the check; simply reciprocate at a later time.

In case of China Greetings are formal and the oldest person is always greeted first. Handshakes are the most common form of greeting with foreigners. Many Chinese will look towards the ground when greeting someone. Address the person by an honorific title and their surname. Just like the Sikhs, the Chinese have a terrific sense of humour. They can laugh at themselves most readily if they have a comfortable relationship with the other person. Be ready to laugh at yourself given the proper circumstances. As far as gifts are concerned the Chinese like food items as gifts. Do not give scissors, knives or other cutting utensils as they indicate the severing of the relationship. Do not give clocks, handkerchiefs or straw sandals as they are associated with funerals and death.. Do not give flowers, as many Chinese associate these with funerals. Do not wrap gifts in white, blue or black paper. Four is an unlucky number so do not give four of anything. Eight is the luckiest number, so giving eight of something brings luck to the recipient. Always present gifts using both your hands. Gifts are not opened when received. Don’t panic if a Chinese refuses to take a gift as it is customary to refuse a gift three times before it is accepted. As far as dining is concerned the Chinese prefer to entertain in public places rather than in their homes, especially when entertaining foreigners. If you are invited to their house, consider it a great honor. You must turn down such an honor only if you have a good reason to do so, it is considered polite to explain the conflict in your schedule so that your actions are not taken as a slight. Arrive on time. Remove your shoes before entering the house. Bring a small gift to the hostess. Eat well to demonstrate that you are enjoying the food! The host begins eating first. You should try everything that is offered to you. Never eat the last piece from the serving tray. Be observant to other peoples' needs. Just like in Japan the Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak. Place the bones on the table or in a special bowl meant for that purpose. . Hold the rice bowl close to your mouth while eating. Do not be offended if a Chinese makes slurping or belching sounds; it merely indicates that they are enjoying their food. There are no strict rules about finishing all the food in your bowl.

And In "India my love", as long as you are polite and loving every thing is fine. It is a nation where many cultures including the western cultures are absolutely at home. If an Indian politician is around you be a little careful as he may turn any issue in to a political one but generally the people are broad minded in terms of having not very strict rules about any thing. The general etiquettes of punctuality, honesty of purpose, cleanliness, politeness, and empathy for both the host and the guest are well understood and appreciated.

So go meet people from all over the globe, as long as you are sensitive to the sensibilities of others you will be fine any where and every where.


by...........Balwant Gurunay, Mba, PgPr.


  1. A nice and detailed writing to arouse enough interest in and respect for different cultures.

  2. Nice work. it would be a nice idea to put links for some other sites on cultural management. I enjoyed reading the piece.