Cultural Mishaps by Margaret Code

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Interviews people

Submitted: April 11, 2009

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Submitted: April 11, 2009

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In a court of law cultural differences can result in a misunderstanding or misperception upon which a case might turn. Not all cross-cultural mishaps have such momentous consequences, but since enormous potential for intercultural missteps and miscues exists in Toronto today, this subject is important. Mosaic Mishaps offers gleanings from discussions with students, faculty, staff and some off-campus resource persons who were asked for examples of potential or actual cross-cultural misunderstandings.
The short inventory below is not intended as a representative sampling, but rather as a stimulus for thought. It carries with it an invitation to readers to email their own insights, pitfalls and pratfalls to thenewspaper@thenewspaper.ca. Put EXCHANGE in the subject line. Margaret will edit and print your scenarios selecting an assortment for Mosaic Mishaps. We will use your first name with your faculty or department or a pseudonym with an asterisk if preferred.
Olivia, a U. of T. Arts and Sci. grad, mentions how the Chinese habit of squatting in your haunches to rest, common elsewhere in the world, could make a person the subject of ridicule in Toronto. Are you going to the bathroom, one person was asked. She notes the widespread belief in some cultures that disabilities are a curse brought upon someone for misdeeds such as having a child out of wedlock creates unfortunate consequences. In cultures where women are regarded as possessions, a rapist would find it difficult to understand he had done something wrong, she adds.
Michael, a graduate student from New York City, finds a big difference between Americans and Canadians – much bigger than that between Poles and Americans to his great surprise. He contrasts Americans, whom he describes as “up front, open, blunt in giving opinions”, with Canadians who stand back and whose way of talking he describes as “slower, patient, more tentative”. He was considered too forward by Canadians on first coming to Toronto and found he didn’t initially fit in. Studying here “changed his idea of Canadians in a very positive way” for he found to his delight once you get to know Canadians, relationships are deeper.
Tony, campus pastor, notes that showing the soles of your feet to someone is insulting in some cultures and highlights the implications for students sitting cross-legged on the floor. As another example, he comments that most Asians slurp when eating to express appreciation for the food while Westerners consider this rude.
Raisa, a fourth year student of English and sociology with a minor in writing, comments that Indians and Moroccans who eat rice with their hands might be considered strange by many Torontonians. When she came to Canada in grade six, she was belittled and considered dumb when she didn’t understand English expressions and slang and when she used British English such as rubber for eraser and scale for ruler. This left her feeling depressed and alienated for a long time. Raisa also observes that foreigners are more friendly with each other than Canadians are with each other. She was surprised at the extreme gratitude of one international student when she, Raisa, went out of her way to get some change for this young woman who even offered to pay her for her kindness. On occasion she saw Asians and East Indians, who feel obligated to share things such as food and assignments with others, being taken advantage of by others and believes excessive sharing might make a generous or polite person appear vulnerable and easy to manipulate.
Dale, a native Torontonian for many years a teacher in the Far East, contributes several examples. With Asians and First Nations peoples, eye contact between younger people and their elders is a sign of disrespect. If an Asian smiles at a time that might to some Torontonians seem inappropriate, this could be because he or she is nervous rather than foolish as might be inferred. Asians will commonly close their eyes in negotiations. Others might misunderstand and think them bored or inattentive when they are just thinking. As in Pakistan and many cultures, Asians put pleasure before business. They take a client or customer out to eat and drink before discussing business. Time is not money. Human relations come first. North Americans might misinterpret this display of politeness as a delaying tactic.
Dale also lists some faux pas to be wary of. Never write a Korean’s name in red ink. This portends death. Never stick chop sticks upright in a bowl of rice. This too signifies death. Never pour a drink for yourself first; always the guest’s first. In fact, never pour for yourself. Let someone else do it.
Let us hear from you. By exchanging examples through Mosaic Mishaps, we expand on traditional word-of-mouth, trial-and-error, and print methods of intercultural learning and learn from one another.
 
 
793 words
 
 
Margaret Code B.A., M.Ed. is a former instructor of university- and college-level courses in communications and assertiveness. She currently works in the public sector and operates a counseling practice assisting  individuals coping with stress, anxiety and depression.
 
 
 
******
 
Ari, a 2nd year Arts & Sci. student, was cautioned after holding the door open for someone at the Dragon Mall. No one will thank you for that here, he was told. Only servants hold doors in mainland China and they are not thanked.
Alyssa, a second year Arts and Sci. student says that reserve could be misunderstood as coldness or unfriendliness. She sees major differences across cultures in willingness to accept authority which could easily make for conflict or misunderstandings.
A fourth year Arts and Sci. student, finds a difference between the way of meeting someone in Toronto and in Pakistan where getting down to business is slower and more people-focused. In Pakistan, you inquire of people’s well being and their family before discussing business. Here the preliminaries can be limited. Here too, she finds a favour done for someone might be acknowledged with “O.K.” without a thank you or eye contact and without acknowledging the person, contrary to what she previously expected.
Nida, a second year Industrial Engineering student, cites the example of the Pakistani custom of thanking someone repeatedly for a favour done such as giving you a ride somewhere which is not the norm in Toronto. She also observes that refusing hospitality in the form of food or beverages would be insulting in Pakistan as in many countries.
Mamoona, a fourth year Arts and Sci. student, sees potential for misunderstanding in the South Asian sanction against physical contact between men and women. If a South Asian or Moslem woman refuses a handshake, she might be considered rude or unfriendly in Toronto.
Shaik, a third year Ph. D. forestry student, comments that, in Bangladesh, the right hand must always be used to shake hands (like here), offer someone something, or pat a person on the back. Using the left would be impolite. In Bangladesh too, the person inviting another out for a meal or a beer always pays. The bill is never shared as happens here. Like here, he would wait for a break to join a conversation, but if someone gave the wrong information, he would jump in right away. Grammatical mistakes would be corrected right away.
Shekhar, a first year Ph. D. ecology student, observes that holding the door for those entering behind you is not done in India or Pakistan, but here, you might be criticized for not doing so. A Bangladeshi male member of a close-knit team might be thought of as stand offish if he followed his cultural practice of not hugging women.
Dan, a law student raised in the Vancouver area, remembers original Vancouverites being surprised at Chinese newcomers who rebuilt homes to cover the front and back yard areas as well as the original home’s footprint. With few windows and no yards, the Chinese were, possibly mistakenly, seen as insular.
Imelda, a long time transplant from the Philippians, recalls a situation with her toddler when she was new to Canada. The child was having a temper tantrum in the basement apartment where they lived. Imelda had been told it was against the Canadian custom to hit your children and if you did, someone would call the police. She was desperate to get the child to stop crying as she feared the police would be at her door and she also knew she couldn’t spank the child. She was at her wit’s end. It was years before she discovered this “rule” isn’t as rigid as she’d been led to believe.
Grace, in Canada for thirty years is a native Trinidadian. She recalls an experience in Nigeria where, when she donated to a beggar or charity, she would receive the blessing “May you have many children”. Already having one child and not wanting more, she found this disconcerting.
 
Margaret Code
 
 
In a court of law cultural differences can result in a misunderstanding or misperception upon which a case might turn. Not all cross-cultural mishaps have such momentous consequences, but since enormous potential for intercultural missteps and miscues exists in Toronto today, this subject is important. Mosaic Mishaps offers gleanings from discussions with students, faculty, staff and some off-campus resource persons who were asked for examples of potential or actual cross-cultural misunderstandings.
The short inventory below is not intended as a representative sampling, but rather as a stimulus for thought. It carries with it an invitation to readers to email their own insights, pitfalls and pratfalls to thenewspaper@thenewspaper.ca. Put EXCHANGE in the subject line. Margaret will edit and print your scenarios selecting an assortment for Mosaic Mishaps. We will use your first name with your faculty or department or a pseudonym with an asterisk if preferred.
Olivia, a U. of T. Arts and Sci. grad, mentions how the Chinese habit of squatting in your haunches to rest, common elsewhere in the world, could make a person the subject of ridicule in Toronto. Are you going to the bathroom, one person was asked. She notes the widespread belief in some cultures that disabilities are a curse brought upon someone for misdeeds such as having a child out of wedlock creates unfortunate consequences. In cultures where women are regarded as possessions, a rapist would find it difficult to understand he had done something wrong, she adds.
Michael, a graduate student from New York City, finds a big difference between Americans and Canadians – much bigger than that between Poles and Americans to his great surprise. He contrasts Americans, whom he describes as “up front, open, blunt in giving opinions”, with Canadians who stand back and whose way of talking he describes as “slower, patient, more tentative”. He was considered too forward by Canadians on first coming to Toronto and found he didn’t initially fit in. Studying here “changed his idea of Canadians in a very positive way” for he found to his delight once you get to know Canadians, relationships are deeper.
Tony, campus pastor, notes that showing the soles of your feet to someone is insulting in some cultures and highlights the implications for students sitting cross-legged on the floor. As another example, he comments that most Asians slurp when eating to express appreciation for the food while Westerners consider this rude.
Raisa, a fourth year student of English and sociology with a minor in writing, comments that Indians and Moroccans who eat rice with their hands might be considered strange by many Torontonians. When she came to Canada in grade six, she was belittled and considered dumb when she didn’t understand English expressions and slang and when she used British English such as rubber for eraser and scale for ruler. This left her feeling depressed and alienated for a long time. Raisa also observes that foreigners are more friendly with each other than Canadians are with each other. She was surprised at the extreme gratitude of one international student when she, Raisa, went out of her way to get some change for this young woman who even offered to pay her for her kindness. On occasion she saw Asians and East Indians, who feel obligated to share things such as food and assignments with others, being taken advantage of by others and believes excessive sharing might make a generous or polite person appear vulnerable and easy to manipulate.
Dale, a native Torontonian for many years a teacher in the Far East, contributes several examples. With Asians and First Nations peoples, eye contact between younger people and their elders is a sign of disrespect. If an Asian smiles at a time that might to some Torontonians seem inappropriate, this could be because he or she is nervous rather than foolish as might be inferred. Asians will commonly close their eyes in negotiations. Others might misunderstand and think them bored or inattentive when they are just thinking. As in Pakistan and many cultures, Asians put pleasure before business. They take a client or customer out to eat and drink before discussing business. Time is not money. Human relations come first. North Americans might misinterpret this display of politeness as a delaying tactic.
Dale also lists some faux pas to be wary of. Never write a Korean’s name in red ink. This portends death. Never stick chop sticks upright in a bowl of rice. This too signifies death. Never pour a drink for yourself first; always the guest’s first. In fact, never pour for yourself. Let someone else do it.
Let us hear from you. By exchanging examples through Mosaic Mishaps, we expand on traditional word-of-mouth, trial-and-error, and print methods of intercultural learning and learn from one another.
 
 
793 words
 
 
Margaret Code B.A., M.Ed. is a former instructor of university- and college-level courses in communications and assertiveness. She currently works in the public sector and operates a counseling practice assisting  individuals coping with stress, anxiety and depression.
 
 
 
******
 
Ari, a 2nd year Arts & Sci. student, was cautioned after holding the door open for someone at the Dragon Mall. No one will thank you for that here, he was told. Only servants hold doors in mainland China and they are not thanked.
Alyssa, a second year Arts and Sci. student says that reserve could be misunderstood as coldness or unfriendliness. She sees major differences across cultures in willingness to accept authority which could easily make for conflict or misunderstandings.
A fourth year Arts and Sci. student, finds a difference between the way of meeting someone in Toronto and in Pakistan where getting down to business is slower and more people-focused. In Pakistan, you inquire of people’s well being and their family before discussing business. Here the preliminaries can be limited. Here too, she finds a favour done for someone might be acknowledged with “O.K.” without a thank you or eye contact and without acknowledging the person, contrary to what she previously expected.
Nida, a second year Industrial Engineering student, cites the example of the Pakistani custom of thanking someone repeatedly for a favour done such as giving you a ride somewhere which is not the norm in Toronto. She also observes that refusing hospitality in the form of food or beverages would be insulting in Pakistan as in many countries.
Mamoona, a fourth year Arts and Sci. student, sees potential for misunderstanding in the South Asian sanction against physical contact between men and women. If a South Asian or Moslem woman refuses a handshake, she might be considered rude or unfriendly in Toronto.
Shaik, a third year Ph. D. forestry student, comments that, in Bangladesh, the right hand must always be used to shake hands (like here), offer someone something, or pat a person on the back. Using the left would be impolite. In Bangladesh too, the person inviting another out for a meal or a beer always pays. The bill is never shared as happens here. Like here, he would wait for a break to join a conversation, but if someone gave the wrong information, he would jump in right away. Grammatical mistakes would be corrected right away.
Shekhar, a first year Ph. D. ecology student, observes that holding the door for those entering behind you is not done in India or Pakistan, but here, you might be criticized for not doing so. A Bangladeshi male member of a close-knit team might be thought of as stand offish if he followed his cultural practice of not hugging women.
Dan, a law student raised in the Vancouver area, remembers original Vancouverites being surprised at Chinese newcomers who rebuilt homes to cover the front and back yard areas as well as the original home’s footprint. With few windows and no yards, the Chinese were, possibly mistakenly, seen as insular.
Imelda, a long time transplant from the Philippians, recalls a situation with her toddler when she was new to Canada. The child was having a temper tantrum in the basement apartment where they lived. Imelda had been told it was against the Canadian custom to hit your children and if you did, someone would call the police. She was desperate to get the child to stop crying as she feared the police would be at her door and she also knew she couldn’t spank the child. She was at her wit’s end. It was years before she discovered this “rule” isn’t as rigid as she’d been led to believe.
Grace, in Canada for thirty years is a native Trinidadian. She recalls an experience in Nigeria where, when she donated to a beggar or charity, she would receive the blessing “May you have many children”. Already having one child and not wanting more, she found this disconcerting.
 
Margaret Code
 
 
In a court of law cultural differences can result in a misunderstanding or misperception upon which a case might turn. Not all cross-cultural mishaps have such momentous consequences, but since enormous potential for intercultural missteps and miscues exists in Toronto today, this subject is important. Mosaic Mishaps offers gleanings from discussions with students, faculty, staff and some off-campus resource persons who were asked for examples of potential or actual cross-cultural misunderstandings.
The short inventory below is not intended as a representative sampling, but rather as a stimulus for thought. It carries with it an invitation to readers to email their own insights, pitfalls and pratfalls to thenewspaper@thenewspaper.ca. Put EXCHANGE in the subject line. Margaret will edit and print your scenarios selecting an assortment for Mosaic Mishaps. We will use your first name with your faculty or department or a pseudonym with an asterisk if preferred.
Olivia, a U. of T. Arts and Sci. grad, mentions how the Chinese habit of squatting in your haunches to rest, common elsewhere in the world, could make a person the subject of ridicule in Toronto. Are you going to the bathroom, one person was asked. She notes the widespread belief in some cultures that disabilities are a curse brought upon someone for misdeeds such as having a child out of wedlock creates unfortunate consequences. In cultures where women are regarded as possessions, a rapist would find it difficult to understand he had done something wrong, she adds.
Michael, a graduate student from New York City, finds a big difference between Americans and Canadians – much bigger than that between Poles and Americans to his great surprise. He contrasts Americans, whom he describes as “up front, open, blunt in giving opinions”, with Canadians who stand back and whose way of talking he describes as “slower, patient, more tentative”. He was considered too forward by Canadians on first coming to Toronto and found he didn’t initially fit in. Studying here “changed his idea of Canadians in a very positive way” for he found to his delight once you get to know Canadians, relationships are deeper.
Tony, campus pastor, notes that showing the soles of your feet to someone is insulting in some cultures and highlights the implications for students sitting cross-legged on the floor. As another example, he comments that most Asians slurp when eating to express appreciation for the food while Westerners consider this rude.
Raisa, a fourth year student of English and sociology with a minor in writing, comments that Indians and Moroccans who eat rice with their hands might be considered strange by many Torontonians. When she came to Canada in grade six, she was belittled and considered dumb when she didn’t understand English expressions and slang and when she used British English such as rubber for eraser and scale for ruler. This left her feeling depressed and alienated for a long time. Raisa also observes that foreigners are more friendly with each other than Canadians are with each other. She was surprised at the extreme gratitude of one international student when she, Raisa, went out of her way to get some change for this young woman who even offered to pay her for her kindness. On occasion she saw Asians and East Indians, who feel obligated to share things such as food and assignments with others, being taken advantage of by others and believes excessive sharing might make a generous or polite person appear vulnerable and easy to manipulate.
Dale, a native Torontonian for many years a teacher in the Far East, contributes several examples. With Asians and First Nations peoples, eye contact between younger people and their elders is a sign of disrespect. If an Asian smiles at a time that might to some Torontonians seem inappropriate, this could be because he or she is nervous rather than foolish as might be inferred. Asians will commonly close their eyes in negotiations. Others might misunderstand and think them bored or inattentive when they are just thinking. As in Pakistan and many cultures, Asians put pleasure before business. They take a client or customer out to eat and drink before discussing business. Time is not money. Human relations come first. North Americans might misinterpret this display of politeness as a delaying tactic.
Dale also lists some faux pas to be wary of. Never write a Korean’s name in red ink. This portends death. Never stick chop sticks upright in a bowl of rice. This too signifies death. Never pour a drink for yourself first; always the guest’s first. In fact, never pour for yourself. Let someone else do it.
Let us hear from you. By exchanging examples through Mosaic Mishaps, we expand on traditional word-of-mouth, trial-and-error, and print methods of intercultural learning and learn from one another.
 
 
793 words
 
 
Margaret Code B.A., M.Ed. is a former instructor of university- and college-level courses in communications and assertiveness. She currently works in the public sector and operates a counseling practice assisting  individuals coping with stress, anxiety and depression.
 
 
 
******
 
Ari, a 2nd year Arts & Sci. student, was cautioned after holding the door open for someone at the Dragon Mall. No one will thank you for that here, he was told. Only servants hold doors in mainland China and they are not thanked.
Alyssa, a second year Arts and Sci. student says that reserve could be misunderstood as coldness or unfriendliness. She sees major differences across cultures in willingness to accept authority which could easily make for conflict or misunderstandings.
A fourth year Arts and Sci. student, finds a difference between the way of meeting someone in Toronto and in Pakistan where getting down to business is slower and more people-focused. In Pakistan, you inquire of people’s well being and their family before discussing business. Here the preliminaries can be limited. Here too, she finds a favour done for someone might be acknowledged with “O.K.” without a thank you or eye contact and without acknowledging the person, contrary to what she previously expected.
Nida, a second year Industrial Engineering student, cites the example of the Pakistani custom of thanking someone repeatedly for a favour done such as giving you a ride somewhere which is not the norm in Toronto. She also observes that refusing hospitality in the form of food or beverages would be insulting in Pakistan as in many countries.
Mamoona, a fourth year Arts and Sci. student, sees potential for misunderstanding in the South Asian sanction against physical contact between men and women. If a South Asian or Moslem woman refuses a handshake, she might be considered rude or unfriendly in Toronto.
Shaik, a third year Ph. D. forestry student, comments that, in Bangladesh, the right hand must always be used to shake hands (like here), offer someone something, or pat a person on the back. Using the left would be impolite. In Bangladesh too, the person inviting another out for a meal or a beer always pays. The bill is never shared as happens here. Like here, he would wait for a break to join a conversation, but if someone gave the wrong information, he would jump in right away. Grammatical mistakes would be corrected right away.
Shekhar, a first year Ph. D. ecology student, observes that holding the door for those entering behind you is not done in India or Pakistan, but here, you might be criticized for not doing so. A Bangladeshi male member of a close-knit team might be thought of as stand offish if he followed his cultural practice of not hugging women.
Dan, a law student raised in the Vancouver area, remembers original Vancouverites being surprised at Chinese newcomers who rebuilt homes to cover the front and back yard areas as well as the original home’s footprint. With few windows and no yards, the Chinese were, possibly mistakenly, seen as insular.
Imelda, a long time transplant from the Philippians, recalls a situation with her toddler when she was new to Canada. The child was having a temper tantrum in the basement apartment where they lived. Imelda had been told it was against the Canadian custom to hit your children and if you did, someone would call the police. She was desperate to get the child to stop crying as she feared the police would be at her door and she also knew she couldn’t spank the child. She was at her wit’s end. It was years before she discovered this “rule” isn’t as rigid as she’d been led to believe.
Grace, in Canada for thirty years is a native Trinidadian. She recalls an experience in Nigeria where, when she donated to a beggar or charity, she would receive the blessing “May you have many children”. Already having one child and not wanting more, she found this disconcerting.
 
Margaret Code
 


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