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How Culture Can Trick Us Into Being Rude


Not too long ago, this Buzzfeed article showed up in my Facebook newsfeed: 14 Reasons Why The Irish Goodbye Is The Best Exit Strategy. Basically, the article was promoting the practice of quietly leaving a party without saying anything to anyone.

I can guarantee you that this 'ghosting' would never be tolerated by my Latino husband. Saying goodbye to everyone is like half the reason we came in the first place.

But this article (and exit strategy) left an impression because of the writer's mention of how this is a polite way to leave. For one, you don't interrupt everyone's conversations to announce your imminent departure. Secondly, you don't trigger a mass exodus and basically end the party. And third, if you're partying too hard, you quietly slip away before any kind of scene gets made.

All of that does sound polite actually.

Except I also see how it could be completely rude.

Context and culture is so important. I would argue that there is no inherently right or wrong way to leave a gathering. Cultural norms are what defines politeness.

And this is where cross-cultural relationships can get tricky. If I think it's polite to leave your house without saying goodbye because you were in another conversation, I could ruffle feathers if you expected me to come and say something anyway.

You might start to think I was rude even though I was trying to be polite.

Surprisingly, it's often these small differences that can wear on friendships. It's valuable to learn what it polite to the other person. For me, that means lots of kissing (but not too much).

It seems cross-cultural friendships require a certain commitment on everyone's behalf to step outside their comfort zone. Perhaps if we all try to do what the other considers polite, we can care for each in new, meaningful ways. Of course, that's easier said than done.

What ways do you notice the same actions being considered both polite and rude from different perspectives?

2 comments

  1. Yes, I agree! This is almost exactly what happened between my father-in-law and I. When we would arrive at Mardo's house, I wouldn't see anyone right away. Then I noticed my father-in-law in his study/office with his head down, so I assumed he was writing a sermon/praying/studying. So I would offer forgo the traditional Guatemalan "saludo" because I thought it would be rude to interrupt. A few months in dating, Mardo expressed to me some concerns his dad had, and one of them was that I was rude because I never said hello! I explained my point of view to Mardo and from that moment on, I made sure to always yell a big "buenas tardes" to announce my arrival to whomever might be there! :)

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  2. This made me laugh out loud. Perfect example! Glad you are were able to work it out!

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