Cultural Differences!


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Images – Cultural Differences – For Illustration Demonstration Purposes Only!

Have you been in this situation where you are in a foreign land and sometimes find yourself in a very awkward and embarrassing situation in what you had thought was an innocent ordinary signal or body movement has caused offence? For example, you waved good-bye to someone by using your palm instead of the using the accepted back of your hand?

It can happen to anyone. Many a times people are caught unawares in such a situation, especially when you are travelling or just arrived at a new destination.

A long time ago in my job aspects as in charge of Overseas Training – there was this irate telex from our UK Head Offices Associates Shell saying – Please guide your students that in UK we end with sweets – not start with sweets! This was in reference to our first batch of Interior Students sent there and at a luncheon thrown to ‘welcome them in UK’! Their mistake was to keep dates (fruit) in the sweets – and as we all know Omanis start with dates first before the main meal! They were a spectacle by other foreign and UK students!!

Another example here in Oman – they serve you coffee in small special cups. The coffee is black and normally also scented. It is normal to have more than one cup, at least three times is the accepted norm and required for guests to partake if you want to please your host. The coffee is poured in the small cup up to the middle only; to serve full is considered as an insult to the guest – especially in Oman. If you have had enough of the coffee, you are required to shake the empty cup and cover your hand (right) on the top of the cup. If you do not do this, the coffee will continue to be poured to you till you do this, or you answer you had enough if the host will query you if you want more.

Another strange custom in Oman is that all the food is served to the guests, and what is left over is then given to the family household members. So be sure to leave something back unless you want the family to starve or cook again!

Do not admire something openly – for example old grandfather clock or old type of furniture. It had happened to an Expatriate family once. All they had remembered was the host had asked for the keys of the car. On their journey back, they had opened the gift to find the grandfather clock inside – oh yes – another thing do not open the gift in front of your guest and those in attendance as it is considered impolite and not-the-in-thing to do, unalike in Europe where everyone wants to see what gift you have received.

A strange anecdote had happened once when we got invited for lunch by one local Sheikh (like Chief) in one of the desert villages in the interior. The VIPs were international visitors of one oil company, accompanied by their family members. In this type of gatherings, the ladies usually go inside the house and the men in what is called a Majlis – or large sitting room.   Sometimes, it is a small building outside the main building reserved for male guests only.

As I had said before, the whole food is served to the guests first. There are sumptuous succulent morsels and pieces of meat (usually mutton) cooked together with rice and herbs and spices added in (Biryani) and served in large plates. Each plate serves about 4 to 6 peoples at the most (depending on the generosity of the host!) and there are no forks, knives or spoons – and all eat in one plate using your right hand. If you insist to use individual plates, forks and knives, some hosts may serve you these, though they are more happier and contented if you go ‘local’ in this way.   It is also customary of the host to encourage you to separate alone as guests so you are ‘comfortable to eat more’ per se.

Now this son of the international visitor took a piece of meat from the plate and kept shaking it (coffee fashion) giving the message that he had enough and there was sufficient food.

This style only works with coffee, not with the main food. With here it is the opposite. So a wrong message and vibe was being transmitted that ‘the guest wanted more meat’ – not less. The hosts were surprised, but being hospitable people they brought in more – and more vigorous shakings from the guest. They, then asked me – how come the guest wants more meat, when he has not finished what is in the plate?

So I turned around and asked – Andrew, ‘what do you think you are doing?’ He replied – ‘Please tell them I have had enough (full) and do not need more food. Why are they putting more meat in my plate, not in yours and others?’ I casually replied – ‘because I am not shaking any meat on top of my plate.

On the way back to the Oil Desert Camp, we all had a hearty laugh on this faux pas of the young son of this visiting oil Executive.

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Images – Cultural Differences – For Illustration Demonstration Purposes Only!

Extracted From The Books –

C - Short Takes  D - The Sequel