On my first ever visit to the USA some years ago, my taxi driver from the airport was outraged by what I thought to be a very fair tip for the rather brusque service I had received. While I should have perhaps researched the conventions, he seemed to want to argue me into submission. Needless-to-say, this was not a good strategy as it served only to entrench me in my position. Yet had he and I engaged in a more courteous exchange to build understanding I am sure a compromise might have been achieved. He could tell from my accent I was from the UK yet never attempted to appreciate my perspective and to educate me.
I recently overheard a mother telling her son he could not have a cola because the sugar caused ‘cavities’. The child, not unsurprisingly, asked ‘what are cavities?’ This curiosity, the result of inexperience and naivety brought a more comprehensive explanation from his mother. Yet when we meet people from other cultures we assume they should know our norms and conventions, forgetting that they may lack experience in our culture. If we can engage in cultural courtesy and engage our curiosity we might be able to smooth many of the issues that can arise when working cross culturally.
When has your cultural courtesy been lacking?
When do you need to engage your cultural curiosity?
What can you do to encourage cultural courtesy in others?