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MEETING, GREETING & EATING

LEARNING HOW WE MEET, GREET AND EAT WITH PEOPLE WHO SPEAK DIFFERENT LANGUAGES, WHO
COME FROM DIFFERENT COUNTRIES THAT HAVE DIFFERNT CULTURES FROM OUR OWN.
taking place. Many young people now
MEETING AND GREETING IN DIFFERENT CULTURES
address more than one person as
In all cultures (including your own!) there is a protocol involved in both STUDENT COPYMASTER ONE
‘yous’. While adults seem to cringe
meeting someone for the first time and greeting friends, acquaintances,
when they hear this, it is an example of a language changing as it has always
family, elders and strangers. Different cultures have a range of tolerance of
done and always will. The word ‘yous’ is simply filling the gap created by
physical closeness and contact which can be puzzling and even awkward
the word ‘thou’ that has gone from our language and was once used for
for the beginner to master. In French and Spanish-­speaking countries
greeting more than one person.
friends will generally greet by kissing each other on both cheeks. Called
‘la bise’ in French, it is complicated by the fact that in different regions of
France the number of kisses varies. Which cheek to begin with can also HOW DIFFERENT CULTURES DIVIDE UP THE DAY
vary. When greeting formally the handshake is more common in these two Every culture sees the world in different ways and this includes how they
cultures than in Anglo-­Saxon countries. Arriving at work in the morning it see the time of the day. Chinese, German and Japanese see morning, after-
is not uncommon to find oneself involved in a daily ritual of shaking hands noon, and evening in a similar way to New Zealanders and tend to keep
or doing ‘la bise’ with everyone. Meeting and greeting in Germany more the same hours. The French and particularly in Spanish-speaking countries
closely resembles New Zealand habits. It’s common to shake hands when people see this rather differently to us. In Spain the morning (mañana)
meeting for the first time but not expected as part of the daily ritual. Hugging goes on until 2.00pm. This is considered to be mediodia (noon) and
as a form of greeting is growing more widespread, especially among young the evening (tarde) goes on until it gets dark, so it varies from season to
people. It’s not rare in France these days to see young men exchanging season depending on the length of the day. Evening and night share the
‘bises’ although this is more widespread when greeting the opposite sex. same word in Spanish: ‘noche’ ‘tarde’ (afternoon also means ‘late’). This
A word of warning for visitors to France: it is considered very impolite not can cause problems for people from other cultures who don’t understand
to greet the assistant when entering or leaving a shop. An exchange of any this concept of time. We usually expect to start dinner between 6-7pm
sort should also be prefaced with a greeting. but if you are in Spain or South America you won’t see any sign of dinner
People from Asian cultures are less inclined to make physical contact before 9pm. French and Spanish speaking countries usually have lunch
when they greet. The Chinese shake hands initiated by the person of between 2.00 and 3.30pm and then, they may take a nap called a siesta.
higher rank, but only a light touch if any contact, is made between men Shops usually close at 1.30 or 2.00 pm and they open again after 5.00
and women. The Japanese bow rather than shake hands, but this is quite pm, normally until 7.00 or 8.00 pm. So in small cities or villages, life stops
an art and entails lowering ones gaze as a sign of humility. How low one at around 2.00 pm for a couple of hours. In France it is also common in
should bow is dependent on the role of each person. rural areas for shops to close for two hours in the middle of the day. Even
As a rule of thumb, keep your eyes open and ‘When in Rome, do as in schools in France, it is usual to have a two hour break for lunch which
the Romans do’ provided it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable. While is a regular sit-down, three course meal eaten in the school canteen. No
intercultural competence involves acknowledging that the behaviours of pies and Coke for the French. People in France and Spain tend to go to
other cultures are as normal and valid as your own, it doesn’t entail losing bed much later as a result.
your own cultural identity.
IMPORTANCE OF PUNCTUALITY IN OTHER CULTURES
In China it is considered important, but lateness is also commonly accepted
because of traffic or other urgent issues. In Japan, if it is a business ap-
pointment, then you are expected to arrive five minutes ahead of time. Even
among friends, if you are consistently late, you are considered to be lazy.
In Germany, punctuality is very important. In France it is normal to be punc-
tual for appointments but a more flexible approach is taken in social
situations. It would be unusual to ‘arrive on the dot’ for a dinner party.
Spanish speaking cultures are renowned for their relaxed attitude to
punctuality and their penchant for procrastination. This is represented by
the expression ‘mañana’ (which also means tomorrow) but is this reputa-
tion justified? Stereotyping cultural behaviour in any culture is a pitfall to
be avoided. Lateness can be as irritating to Spanish speakers as it is in
other cultures.

In English we have one word for ‘you’ which covers singular and plural EATING
form and is used in formal and informal language. It is important to learn Discovering different foods, their preparation and when and with whom
that other languages have different words for these and formal and informal they are eaten is one of the most exciting discoveries we can make when
ways of addressing people. It is difficult to learn these forms so when studying other cultures. Our five cultures we are studying all have breakfast,
addressing people in other languages it is best to stick to the formal way lunch and dinner, and apart from the Spanish speaking countries, these
– especially when addressing adults and use the informal form with young meals are eaten at approximately the same time as in New Zealand, although
people, friends and family. specific times for meals in all cultures seems to be becoming less rigid
Did you know that in New Zealand a language change seems to be than it was.

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www.ilep.ac.nz
Breakfast is ‘universal’ but what is eaten varies a lot. In China it’s likely
to be soy bean milk, pan cakes, steam dumplings, porridge/congee, milk,
and bread. In Japan it could be traditional, with rice, grilled fish, miso soup,
vegetables and pickles, but these days a western style breakfast
of bread, milk, eggs, ham, fruit, and salad is becoming more common as it’s
quicker to prepare. Although the Japanese words for meals all include the
word for rice, bread is now commonly eaten for school lunches. The word
‘breakfast’, means of course, breaking of a fast (since last night’s dinner)
but interestingly, although the equivalent word is used in French (déjeuner),
it is applied to lunch (the real breaking of the fast) and breakfast in France
qualifies as only a ‘small break-fast (petit déjeuner), what we might refer
to as a continental breakfast with croissant, coffee or hot chocolate in a
bowl, rather than a mug, bread and spreads, particularly nutella but with
not a jar of Marmite™ or Vegemite™ in sight, such is their aversion to our
iconic favourites in New Zealand. GOOD MANNERS
Germans call their breakfast ‘early piece’ and it may consist of cereals, Visitors to other countries often get confused about what represents good
toast or more commonly freshly baked crispy buns, jam, boiled or fried manners. Slurping noodles may be discouraged at home but is quite ac-
eggs, cheese and cold cuts – a substantial start to the day. ceptable in Asia. What should you do with your hands when you’re not using
In Spain, breakfasts are usually light with milk, coffee or juice, cereals, them to eat? These days it doesn’t seem to matter much but a generation
biscuits or bread. A very popular choice in Spain are churros (an elongated, ago in France it was considered rude not to keep your hands visible on the
deep-fried donut). They are normally eaten for breakfast dipped in thick table. The reason for the, it was claimed, was that in days gone by you might
chocolate or coffee. have been hiding a weapon. In Chinese culture the host often helps the
guest pick up food with chopsticks, which is a sign of hospitality because
guests are assumed to be too shy to pick it up themselves. In Japan, blowing
your nose quite loudly, especially during meals will shock people, while in
Spain, dipping your bread in food is considered gauche.
What do you say to someone who’s about to start a meal? In English
speaking countries we often say nothing but the American ‘Enjoy’ is
becoming more common. In Chinese it’s not obligatory but the host may say
‘Ch -i hao’
ˇ or ‘duo- chi- diaˇ nr’ to the guests to ensure they have enough food.
In Japanese there is no rule but they might say ‘itadakimasu’ before they start
eating, responding hosts saying ‘nanimo arimasenga douzo’, which means
‘nothing special’ although they cook so many special meals. French – Bon
appétit! German – Guten Appetit! Spanish – ¡Buen provencho!

PLEASE AND THANK-YOU


These are important words in any language but they are not necessarily
used in exactly the same way or as often as in New Zealand. In China, ‘thank
Lunch used to be the most important meal of the day in many cultures you’ is not said as often as in English, especially between people who know
but with changing work habits, it’s just as likely to be dinner these days as each other well. The reason for this is that thanking someone might keep
busy workers snatch a quick bits at midday instead of relaxing around a them at a distance, because it is too polite. In English is not considered
convivial table with friends, colleagues or family. With the transition towards essential to reply to the person one has thanked although ‘you’re welcome’
more multicultural societies, particularly in the western world, eating habits is quite common. In French, German and Spanish it would be considered
have also changed dramatically. There is now more likely to be a focus on impolite not to reply to ‘thank you’.
regional specialities rather than a national cuisine and in larger population In Japan it is customary to thank someone for a previous favour, so when
centres you can find many different ethnic eateries. Japanese meet they would likely to say ‘thank you for the last time’ and this
When you visit other countries you are likely to be introduced to local refers to the previous meeting which can be as long as several months ago!
delicacies which you may or may not appreciate. What should you do if you Now days this is less common especially amongst the younger generation.
don’t like something or if you’ve had enough? Is it rude to refuse? Generally In French and German speaking countries the number of times you thank
speaking there should be no problem if you refuse politely. Sometimes people is similar to New Zealand but in Spain it is less frequent and some
dishes that look uninviting turn out to be delicious. Take an adventurous Spaniards even feel that over-use of thank you shows insincerity. Once
approach – you will often find a new and delicious food. If you ask people again, careful observation is the best policy. The challenge for us all when
about food in France they will often say ‘snails’ and ‘frogs legs’. These learning and observing customs in other cultures is not to think of them in
dishes however are rarely eaten by the majority of French people. This is terms of what our culture values but to learn to appreciate the diversity of
an example of inaccurate cultural stereotyping. other cultures.

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