‘Multicultural Manners’ Politely Corrects

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Never give yellow flowers to an Iranian.

Don’t leave your chopsticks sticking up in the middle of your rice bowl when dining with a Japanese friend.

And if you ever visit Albania, shake your head if you mean “yes” and nod if you mean “no.”

These are just a few of the proper social practices discussed at a lecture titled “Multicultural Manners” on Oct. 27 at Kreider Hall. The second in the Social Science Lecture Series, the lecture was given by Norine Dresser, a book author and former ESL professor at GCC. The lecture is titled after Dresser’s newly published book.
Moderator Mike Eberts introduced Dresser by saying, “She has carved an important niche for herself that is very appropriate in a very diverse multicultural area like Southern California.”

Dresser explained the importance of knowing and observing the proper manners in the presence of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. The idea is to not “offend people” and to not create disharmony,” Dresser said.

“The whole point of multicultural manners is to show that we’ve learned to establish an environment of respect for another,” said Dresser.

The lecturer gave many examples of situations in which a person was offended by another person’s ignorance of these manners. She shared a story about an Australian businessman who was doing business in Japan and had offended his Japanese clients by accepting their business cards with one hand and then sticking the cards in his back pocket.

Dresser then asked the audience what the Australian should have done to avoid the social faux pas. She then summed up their answers: “Look at the card and put it in the right place; bow to the person; and accept the card with both hands.” Doing this, Dresser says, establishes respect.

Dresser believes that Americans in particular need to pay more attention to multicultural manners, especially when speaking.
“Americans speak in such a direct way,” she said. “The rest of the world doesn’t.” She added that this results in confusion and misunderstanding, and advised the audience to avoid “yes-no questions” and always give details when talking to foreigners.

She told a story of a woman who worked at the cafeteria in another college and was confounded with Bosnian students who would order hamburgers and only eat the pickles and the burger patty.

“They thought that the bread was pork, because of the word ‘ham’ in hamburger,” Dresser explained. This is because Bosnian Muslims do not eat pork.

Dresser also reminded the audience to be aware of other people’s religious practices. For instance, she said, people who practice Hindu find it disrespectful when the left hand is used to pass food, and it is also insensitive to invite Muslims to dinner during Ramadan while they are fasting.

She explained that a gesture could mean one thing in one culture and have a different meaning in another culture. Giving yellow flowers to an Iranian means “I hate you,” according to Dresser, but to an Armenian it could mean, “I miss you.”

Other gestures that could convey cheerful or positive messages in American culture could be offensive in other cultures, according to Dresser. Examples of these are the peace sign (holding up two fingers in a “V” shape), the thumbs-up gesture and the “A-Ok” sign (holding up the last three fingers while the thumb and forefinger form an “O”). All of these gestures have obscene and insulting meanings tantamount to cursing in other cultures.

However, there are also some people from other cultures who do not observe their own traditional social rules and etiquette.
“Just because someone belongs to a particular group doesn’t mean they follow rules exactly,” Dresser said. “There are always variations.”

The lecture culminated in a question-and-answer portion, during which several members of the audience were able to share their own experiences that were related to multicultural etiquette.

Harout Farajian, a GCC student, said that he thoroughly enjoyed the lecture. “It was very interesting,” he said. “I learned a lot.”

Dresser’s newly published book, “Multicultural Manners,” is already in its second edition and is only one of the author’s several published books on cultural differences. A book signing session was held outside the hall after the lecture.

“Every culture has its goals,” Dresser said. “We just have little tiny differences in the way we carry these goals.”