Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pleased to meet you?

Wear a tie featuring cartoon pigs to a business meeting in New York, and they’ll think you a bit of a joker; do the same in Saudi Arabia, where the pig is unclean, and you may well have lost the contract. A nod of the head may indicate ‘yes’ here, but in Albania it mean ‘no’ (while a shake of the head means ‘yes’). In Spain, ‘Adios’ means goodbye; in Cuba the same word means ‘hello’. In Japan, the cheery ‘Cin cin’ may not be your best drinking toast, as ‘cin’ is slang for the male organ.

Reassuringly, there are many similarities, too. In almost all countries it’s polite to wait for the host to be seated before you start eating, whether you then say ‘Bon Appetit!’, ‘Sahtain!’, ‘Youyi!’ or ‘Itadakimasu!!’ The meal that follows may be eaten with hands, chopsticks or knives and forks – and include raw reindeer (Siberia), goat’s penis soup (China) or palm weevil larvae (Nigeria) – but when you’ve finished a hearty expression of thanks is universally expected and appreciated.

Inevitably, globalisation is changing everything. Visitors to Japan no longer need worry about niceties of bowing, while business-minded Indians have learned to put aside the elegant namaste gesture and shake hands like a Westerner

We can only pray that this process is not terminal, and that in 100 years we won’t be all be identical clones, shaking hands with universal gusto as we mouth the chirpy platitudes of an international cold english. Until then let’s cherish the people of Guinea-Bissau, who point with their lips, not their fingers and respect and appreciate that each of us is slightly different and that’s what still makes the travelling to each of these destinations a unique experience.

Part excerpt from Conde Nast Traveller by Mark McCrum - Nov 07 edition