Cultural Clues & Cues: Tips for Dealing with Diversity
Asian Countries: China Republic, Taiwan, Hong Kong
Languages: There is a large family of Chinese languages and dialects. Cantonese and Mandarin are most commonly spoken In the U. S.
Social Scenarios: An American guest is invited to the home of a Chinese family for dinner. The guest compliments the hostess on the delicious foods that she serves. The hostess responds that this is just a casual dinner, nothing special, even though she spent hours in preparation.
Explanation: Being humble is a virtue In Chinese culture. Accordingly, no matter how much effort a Chinese hostess puts into the preparation of a meal, knowing she is really a good cook, she will still say the foods she has exquisitely prepared are “nothing special”. She will not accept compliments openly, or say “Thank you, I’m glad you like it!”
Eye contact: Bosses/Students will avoid eye contact with elders, parents, and teachers out of respect.
Personal space: When Chinese talk to each other they remain about three feet away from one another.
Work/Classroom behavior: Addressing the boss or teacher: Employees/Students are taught to address the boss or teacher with their title, “Boss” or “Teacher” or Mister or Miss, to show respect.
Keeping quiet: New Chinese students may keep quiet in class; they may be reluctant to ask questions, and usually avoid eye contact.
Verbal expression: Chinese tend to speak loudly when they get excited. People might misunderstand and think that Chinese like to yell at each other. They raise their voices when they feel comfort, enjoyment, when they want to get the attention of another, or when they are in the midst of a noisy environment.
Luck and supernatural forces: Color red is considered to bring good luck. Wearing a green hat means a husband’s wife is unfaithful. Wearing white flowers in your hair means that a family member has died. White is worn for mourning.
Gift Giving: It is considered impolite to open a gift in front of the giver. Instead of giving a gift, Chinese prefer to give a card with “lucky money” in it. Chinese are practical preferring to give money so the receiver can buy something needed, and are reluctant to show the value of a gift.
Country: Kampuchea (Cambodia)
Body Language: Giving eye contact is considered disrespectful, especially from a youth to an elder. Male/female greeting forbids kissing or shaking hands, but consists of “SAM PEAS,” which is bowing, joining one’s hands together at different levels for people of differing levels of-respect or importance. When beckoning someone, extend the arm with the palm down.
Touching: Male/female touching is prohibited, as is head touching of an older person or authority figure by a younger person.
Classroom behavior: Students are taught to be respectful to a teacher or adult, and are taught to stand up for a visitor to the classroom. Students are to completely follow the teacher’s directions. It is not the customary role of parents to help much with discipline problems in school.
Verbal Expression: It is good form to use a soft voice when speaking to children. Yelling or screaming is considered bad form. Children are traditionally guided to use good words and good ways through storytelling.
Parenting Child Rearing: Children are expected to respect adults. The father is considered the head of the family. Average family size is about 5 people. In the absence of parents, the older children are expected to look after the younger siblings.
Dating: Traditionally, there is no dating before marriage; girls are restricted from having relationships with boys.
Clothing: Traditional costumes are worn during traditional ceremonies; materials made from silk with vivid designs; skirts and scarves are wrapped around the body; much jewelry is worn. Traditionally, pants extend over the knee, especially for women. People take off hats when greeting an elder or in a religious ceremony. A Khmer man wearing earrings is considered gay.
Food and Eating: Foods are put on a large, round tray, surrounded by the whole family. Children and women sit flat on the floor. Eating with hands is acceptable. There are three full meals eaten per day. There is no talking or singing during mealtime. Blowing one’s nose at the table is bad manners. Wash your hands before eating with them.
Health Practices: Tea or hot water is consumed for good health. Spices are used in foods. Herbs, traditional medicine, chiropractic, are all used. Spiritual practice is used for healing.
Religion: Buddhism is the principal religion. Some Buddhist practices are teaching morality in class and during traditional ceremonies, parents need to bring children Two hands are used to hand anything to an adult. Donating money to elders or the monks at traditional ceremonies is customary.
Housing: Most strangers use the pagoda (residence of the monks, holy sanctuary) for temporary shelter. Some poorer students use the pagoda for housing when they study in high school. Shoes are not worn inside a shelter or home.
New Year (In the month of April). Wear wrapping skirts and prepare special foods. Gifts given to parents (money, food, clothing). Traditionally, family goes to pagoda (for 3 – 7 days) or at least 4 times per month. Prayer to Buddha, ancestors and traditional games, dances, music are played (no gambling). Boys and girls gather to listen to a sermon by the monks.
Pchum Ben is a special holiday in remembrance of ancestors at the full moon in early September. Special foods (especially a traditional cake) are eaten and given to elders and monks; special clothing is worn. Families gather to pray.
Traditionally, time was determined by the sun’s position. The Khmer also used the stars to determine direction. The sun rises exactly at 6:00 a.m., is directly overhead at noon; and sets at exactly 6:00 P.M. Those Khmer who work in the fields can rely on the sun’s pattern without having to wear a watch.
Culture: Laotian, Lao
Scenario: Both adults and children tend to addresses others by title not name.
Explanation: Laotians are taught to address one another by title not name. Calling someone by their last name is considered disrespectful.
Body Language/Eye contact: Children and youth are not supposed to have eye contact with adults when disciplined. It would be a sign of disrespect.
Head touching: Most Laotian people believe their head is the highest place. It is not supposed to be touched or put down by anyone else, except an authority figure.
Male/female relationship: It is considered shameful In Laotian culture for a woman to touch the body of another man except her husband. Men and women not married to one another do not shake hands or hug. Male and female traditionally greet each other – hands clasped together and bowing. Students of same gender DO hold hands or put an arm around one another.
Manner of offering: Laotians do not accept anything offered improperly, as something which is thrown their way. It is considered not being given from the heart of that person.
Parenting: Laotian parents consider it their right to spank their child if needed.
Languages: Tagalog and Ilokano are most common
Scenario: When called on, workers and students may address the boss or teacher as Sir or Madam.
Explanation: Filipino culture is one of respect to persons in authority.
Scenario: A Filipina woman rode with a male colleague to a conference. She worried when he committed some driving errors, because she wondered how she would explain being with him in case they were in an automobile crash.
Explanation: A married man and a married woman riding alone together is enough to make others assume they are having an affair.
Filipino students are taught to
- raise their hands if they need to say something. Usually they are quiet.
- not answer a teacher unless called upon
- always greet staff with respect; teachers are second parents/authority figures
- stand up when answering a question/not show ignorance by asking a question
- never argue with an adult or even explain their side of the story
- work hard to satisfy ALL requirements if they wish to be promoted
- be on their “good/best behavior” as a part of requirements to being promoted
- pass all of the frequent tests and quizzes, common in every grade
- address all teachers, principals as sir or madam as a courtesy toward authority
Whistling: It is not considered impolite to summon a child by whistling. It is common in the Philippines, though in U.S. mainland schools, children are accustomed to being summoned with a hand gesture, not a whistle.
Eye contact: Eye contact with an adult while being disciplined is considered disrespectful. In fact, in certain one-on-one conversations looking down is considered respectful. It is appropriate, however, for a teacher to request that a student to look at him/her during instruction.
Parenting: Filipino parents would take a risk to care for children. They do not always understand the cautionary measures we employ, such as hesitating to give medical attention in an emergency.
Sometimes there is a tendency for immigrant parents to try so hard to help their children, that they spoil them with the latest luxuries such as cell phones, and devices that distract the children from schoolwork.
Religious practices: Many Filipinos practice Catholicism and follow its traditions. With more intercultural marriages and more generations of Filipino-Americans born In the U.S., these traditions are observed less strictly.
A note on Pronunciation: The Tagalog language has no “F” sound. When spoken in primary language, the term Filipino will be pronounced “Pilipino.”
Situations: Kim was working with her colleagues and pointing different objects with her middle finger. The other students began covering their mouths and laughing.
Explanation: They explained that in the U.S. using the middle finger is an obscene gesture.
A young Vietnamese mother in our Cleveland Family Life Program was invited by her American friends to go out to lunch. When the bill came and she saw all her friends looking at the bill and putting money in the middle! She suddenly realized that she was expected to pay for her own lunch. She was embarrassed because she was $2 short.
Explanation: To be invited in Vietnamese culture is to expect that those who invited you will pay your portion.
Body Language: Using your fingers to request someone approach: This is a gesture used for animals, not people. Using the whole hand with palm facing down is an acceptable gesture for this purpose.
Eye contact: Looking down is a sign of respect to an adult or person in authority.
Public behavior: A nod of the head is an appropriate greeting, male and female do not allow a hug or kiss.
Terms of address: Calling someone by their last name is done when they are being scolded, not as a term of respect. Adults call themselves by first name, and younger people use a term of address such as “aunt” or “uncle” with an elder’s first name. Women do not change their name when they marry.
Parenting: Young adults live with their parents until they are married. Male children are still important for the need to carry on the family name. Respect far parents includes caring for elder parents or in-laws at home instead of putting them in a care facility.
In the classroom: Independent expression in U.S.: Vietnamese students may feel awkward at first when encouraged to engage in group conversations and classroom participation. In their culture, teachers talk and students listen until directed to respond.
Priorities: Students are first taught how to behave politely, then the priority becomes academics.
Health/Human Sexuality: Vietnamese students expressed embarrassment when they were expected to discuss sexual terms during health classes. Most of the Vietnamese parents were upset that their kids were exposed to this education. They remain skeptical even when the curricula are explained.
Respect for teachers is critical in Vietnamese society. Teachers are allowed to punish students who misbehave. Students are expected to bow or nod to their teachers in greeting, or to stand when a teacher enters. It is confusing for them when students in U.S. schools do not.
Right vs. Left handedness: In Vietnamese culture, using the right hand is considered correct, and a child would be considered socially abnormal if he or she used the left hand to write or eat. It is important to educate families that both left and right-handedness are acceptable in the United States.
Holidays: The Lunar New Year Is the most important holiday. Vietnamese remind us that this is not just “Chinese” New Year. Observing a death anniversary is more important than observing a birthday.
Food: American foods are too plain and contain too many dairy products for most Vietnamese. Most Vietnamese foods contain fish sauce, which may smell unpleasant to some Americans. In the Vietnamese tradition, the host provides everything guests are not expected to bring food or drink.
Gifts: It is considered impolite to open a gift in front of the giver.