Neeru and Shama were planning a trip to Europe for a holiday. They had been through all the travel catalogues, Lonely Planet series, and Michelins to plan their travel and stay. From friends and foren returned relatives they knew the weather backwards and had both warm and arctic-wear clothing.

The final stop was this book on etiquette that friends were raving about: How Not to Say Yes While Meaning No.

They sat in a group with their friends. Pooja, the authority because she had recently returned from a trip to Switzerland, read the excerpts.

“A firm handshake plus direct eye contact is the standard form of greeting in Canada. Men should shake hands with women if they offer their hand, but many women will just say ‘hello’ perhaps with a nod of the head, and not shake hands. Personal space is very important. When conversing, people will stand about a half meter apart.”

Mind the Manners! [Illustrations by Sudheer Nath]
Mind the Manners! [Illustrations by Sudheer Nath]

“What does that mean? Should I have a tape measure with me when I meet a Canadian?” asked Vineeta.

“No silly,” explained Bharat. “You don’t have to toe the line.” They don’t want you stepping on their corns.”

“Ha, ha, ha”, guffawed Peeter. He loved this. He had worked in Brazil. “You know, its so funny. When Latinos and Americans meet formally, they are always dancing.”

He explained further. “Its unintentional and it’s called the ‘conversational tango’. When Latinos converse, they tend to stand very close. This makes Americans very uncomfortable and so they back off a step. The Latino follows with a step forward and the visitor sidesteps now. The latino keeps step and the American tries to avoid this. So they move all around the room!”

“Enough”, rapped Pooja. “Back to business. Neeru, Shama are you taking notes?”

Pooja droned on “to signal that you want your bill or check make a motion with the hands as if you are signing a piece of paper. . .

Neeru was half listening and writing down whatever came to her head. It seemed so confusing. What was accepted in one country was not in another. Each country seemed to have developed its own quirky mannerisms. What is accepted in France is a vulgar gesture in another.

For instance, kissing the cheek of a woman. A Middle Easterner would not even allow his wife or sister to be introduced to an infidel let alone allow her hand to shaken. Forget kissing her check!

V for Victory? : In England Winston Churchill spread his index and middle finger to make the V sign for victory famous. This also signals the number “two” in Bulgaria. However, the symbol V has to be made with palm outward. It is considered an offensive gesture in England if done with your palm facing yourself!

She was sure that all this made no sense as she was going there for only a month and if they thought she was being rude or nasty so be it. She was a tourist and foreigners are forgiven most anything. If they didn’t like it they could lump it.

However she made these notes in her meticulous handwriting. Just to show how foolish the entire thing was.

Sounds of Silence : Americans get uncomfortable with periods of silence. Therefore, in business or social situations, if a gap occurs, an American will quickly try to fill in with conversation. However, in China, silence is respected. So don’t be discouraged if there are long periods of no talk. Chinese use this time to contemplate.

What is okay in France and Japan is not okay in China : The circular shape formed by the index and thumb finger with other fingers extended symbolises “okay” in America and France. In Japan it is often interpreted as the symbol for money, as the shape suggests a coin. In Japan if you use this in a store the cashier will give you your change in coins. However, it is interpreted as a vulgar gesture in some parts of the CIS.

Don’t scratch if you itch : In Belgium, do not try to yawn, blow your nose, sneeze, or scratch yourself in the presence of others.

The snapper : Finger snapping in France is both an offense and a signal. When you snap the fingers of both hands it is offensive. However, you could signal a taxi by snapping your fingers.

Way to the loo : In Germany to signal the number “ONE”, hold your thumb upright. Is that how people excuse themselves to go to the loo? Neeru wondered. Weird!

The Irish patch : Perhaps the most offensive gesture in Ireland would be to refuse to buy a round of drinks in a pub when it’s your turn to buy. However, in Australia you can signal that you are asking for a fight with anyone in the bar if you finish your drink and turn the glass upside down squarely on the bar.

News for the nose : In Netherlands do not rub your nose with your forefinger from the bridge in a downward motion as you are saying the other person is cheap. This is even if your nose is genuinely itchy or you have a runny nose. Secondly do not get up during a meal to go to the bathroom even if you HAVE to. Or any other room for that matter.

Tinker tailor : In Egypt, try not to sit with your legs crossed. However, sitting crosslegged tailor-fashion is allowed! It is common to smoke in public and considerate to offer your cigarettes to others present. So carry cartons with you as Egypt has a sizeable population.

Not a Good Luck Sign : Lastly ensure that while in Paraguay and exiting Customs, Do Not cross the middle finger over the index finger as Americans do to signal ‘Good luck’. This is considered VERY bad and you will find it brings you ill luck.

989 words | 9 minutes
Readability: Grade 6 (11-12 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: features
Tags: #japan, #france, #americans, #fingers, #winston churchil

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