Cultural Clues, Do’s and Taboos: A Touch of Grace

To touch or not to touch! How about a touch of grace?

Touch of Grace-Queen-Mich ObamaCultural etiquette, politeness, and good manners are passed down through societies from generation to generation. Etiquette refers to the cultural guidelines for what is appropriate or inappropriate and polite or impolite. It gives a culture structure, integrity, grace, and finesse—all of which are uniquely adapted from one culture to another. Fortunately, simple business and social etiquette are often based on basic common sense. Although etiquette styles and fads may come and go, the fundamentals of global etiquette remain essentially the same.

Often I’m asked about cultural ‘faux pas’, especially as they relate to gestures and touching someone in a way that breaks cultural protocol. This unintentional breach of protocol happens frequently, and will continue to happen, however the real etiquette come into play when the breach is handled with such grace and dignity that the breach dissolves unnoticed! Two examples of this come to mind.

Recently when Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, were presented with a Cleveland Cavaliers T-shirt for Prince George by LaBron James, LaBron put his arm around Kate’s shoulder for the photo, unaware that touching the royal family has been known to break the accepted protocol. Neither Prince William nor Kate showed any sign of being uncomfortable with LaBron’s gesture, showing instead dignity and a touch a grace.

Another similar situation happened in March 2012 when President Obama and the First Lady meet Queen Elizabeth in England. In this case, the Queen first extended her arm to touch Michelle Obama’s back, at which point Mrs. Obama responded in like creating an embrace between the two. The British media was abuzz with this show of affection by the Queen who had not publically displayed this sort of affection in 57 years! From the perspective of “rapport”, perhaps the Queen was welcoming Mrs. Obama in the manner more typically comfortable for the U.S. than England. Traditionally, the protocol would be to follow the customs of etiquette for the country you are in, however Queen Elizabeth and the First lady showed that doing things differently can be just fine!

A touch of grace happens when we let go of traditional cultural expectations and connect on the level of the culture we have in common – the ‘Human Culture’. As we begin 2015, perhaps we can focus more on what we have in common rather than on our differences. The following 7 tips will help us do just that!

  • Be respectful: Respect is a universal language!
  • Show you care: Learn what’s important to the cultures you visit or work with
  • Strike a balance: Find the comfortable middle ground between cultures. No one expects you to be just like them!
  • Know your geography: There is nothing more embarrassing than not knowing the location of a country and its neighbors!
  • Mind your manners: Learn what is considered polite and impolite for the countries you visit
  • Learn how to greet: Greetings are as diverse as the cultures themselves. There are handshakes, kisses, hugs, and bows, and they come in all different sizes!
  • Show a touch of grace: Differences are the spice of life! When it comes to cultural etiquette, no one expects perfection. Enjoy yourself, and it’s highly likely your counterparts will do the same!

To learn more about the Dos and Taboos for different cultures, and the communication styles of Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East – order Gayle Cotton’s bestselling book SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’ available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book

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Emmy Award Winner, Gayle Cotton, is the author of this blog and of the bestselling cross-cultural communication book, SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’, available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book. She is President of Circles Of Excellence and a distinguished Professional Keynote Speaker. Contact Gayle if you need professional speakers for events, speakers on cultural diversity, conference speakers for events, or professional keynote speakers that specialize in cross-cultural communication training and cross-cultural training programs. She is a leader in the industry of professional public speakers and professional motivational speakers. She is among the best of female keynote speakers, women motivational speakers, and international keynote speakers. Gayle is a cross-cultural speaker that is an expert on social business etiquette, and she is sure to please any audience with her charm, wit, and humor!


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