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Cultural Differences

Posted in American Culture by Lindsey on 22 Jul 2011

I have spent most of my life living in the same small town. I grew up traveling a lot, but not too much of that traveling was to destinations outside of the United States. And by not too much I mean to say that I have only left the United States once. Just once. I was about 6-years-old and I went to Canada for a week with my parents. Needless to say, I do not have all that much first-hand experience with other cultures. I have, however, always been intrigued by how other cultures work. It's interesting to me how an everyday thing in one culture can have an entirely different meaning, or even be a vast insult, within another culture.

I've done some research recently do see what some of these cultural differences are. If I'm wrong about any of them, please let me know. Here are just a few:

  • In the United States, a firm handshake represents masculinity and self-confidence. A loose handshake can represent weakness. Either way, a handshake should be short, just a few seconds long at best. In many parts of Africa, however, a handshake should last up to a couple minutes.
  • In Germany, many people in business keep their office door closed to get down to business while business people in the United States interact more with their coworkers via phone calls and office visits. Closed doors can seem unfriendly (which is not the intent in Germany).
  • Typically, a business person in Austria will refer to their client as Mr. or Mrs. (Insert last name here) even after having met with the person 10 times. In the United States, it can seem rather uncomfortable to not use first names after the first one or two meetings.
  • The hand sign that means "okay" in the United States and European countries means "money" or "coins" in Japan.
  • The check kiss greeting is usually done by Scandinavians with a single kiss while Belgians and Arabs go for three kisses.
  • The "V" hand signal means "victory" in Germany but it is an insult in Britain.

Do you know any other cultural differences or do you have a funny story about a time when you did something in another culture that was not interpreted how you intended it? Tell me about it!