Rice-cereal and a ‘sensitive awareness’


By Sarah Allen - [email protected]



Here’s the good news: We live in a world of differences.

Everywhere we go and every person we meet has their own unique histories and passions. Possibilities are endless, and each path has unexpected twists and turns. In fact, when we’re told that life is an adventure, I doubt most of us realize how true that really is.

Now, the bad news: We live in a world of differences. Because, unfortunately, we have a terrible habit of fearing or scorning what is different.

Though, I for one think that we’re getting better at acceptance. Do we always succeed? No, of course not.

But we try, and I think that matters quite a bit.

Sometimes those differences are small, such as opinions over favorite TV shows. Other times they’re significant, such as cultural customs. And while I’ve had some encounters with the latter – such as with international students while at college – my dad has had many, many more brushes with different cultures.

You see, for a while he traveled across the globe for business. He visited: Japan, Mexico, Barbados, Germany, Italy, Venezuela and Jamaica – just to name a few.

When my dad would come home he’d have countless stories detailing his adventures, some of which could have been aptly titled: “When worlds collide.”

In Japan, for instance, my dad ended up amusing everyone with one of his very American quirks. You see, at that point my dad had been in Japan for several days, and he’d had enough rice to last a lifetime. So, that morning when breakfast was served – rice, of course – Dad decided to do something a little different, something that would be a little reminiscent of home.

With some sugar and milk, he turned his rice into a mush that tasted somewhat like cereal.

His interpreter, Kato, stared at Dad like he’d just sprouted a second, fire-breathing head.

“No, no, no,” he reprimanded.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Dad responded, grinning. “Cereal.”

The rest of the day, whenever Kato introduced Dad to someone, he’d begin chattering in Japanese, miming eating – and inspiring quite a bit of good-natured laughter.

Of course, cuisine is just one example of diversity. We also vary in language, music, customs, and a hundred other ways.

Recently, I came across another rather interesting difference: anmners. Here are few I found, mostly on the website Lifehack.org:

• Accept gifts with both hands, but do not open them in front of the giver. (Japan)

• When dining, don’t drink before the host gives a toast. (Sweden)

• If you’re greeting someone older or of a higher status, grip their right wrist with your left hand while shaking it as sign of respect. (Kenya)

• Don’t make too much eye contact; it can be seen as aggressive. (Mexico)

• If you need help while shopping, apologize to the staff for bothering them and be sure to thank them before you leave. (France)

• Respect personal space and never touch someone with whom you are talking. (Korea)

• Do not eat with your left hand; it is considered unclean. (Pakistan)

• Avoid putting your hands on your hips. (Argentina)

• Don’t begin with “I want…” while ordering; it’s considered rude and ignorant. (Canada)

• Remove shoes when entering someone’s home or a temple. (Nepal)

• It’s acceptable to bring gifts, such as chocolates or flowers, when visiting people. (Netherlands)

• When eating a sandwich, hold it using a napkin, rather than just your hands. (Brazil)

• Do not turn down an alcoholic drink; it is considered very offensive. (Russia)

• Never show the bottoms of your shoes. (Pakistan, Jordan)

• Avoid the “OK” sign, as it’s seen as vulgar. (Mexico, Brazil)

So, yes, we live in a world of differences – from what we eat, to how we act.

But what matters most, perhaps, is not whether or not these differences exist, because like it or not they do and they always will – but how we respond to them.

Emily Post, who wrote extensively on etiquette, once said that manners are: “A sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.”

And that is true, I think, in all aspects of life – not just whether or not you should use the “OK” sign.

Because, yes, differences abound, but that doesn’t mean that respect can’t – and shouldn’t – abound, too.

As author and speaker Stephen Covey once said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

Reach Sarah Allen at 937-393-3456, ext. 1680, or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.

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By Sarah Allen

[email protected]

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