We Live in a Melting Pot- 10 Tips on Working With Other Cultures

International flags

We live in a melting pot. At least, that’s what I was taught in all of my U.S. History classes. Living in America gives us the unique chance to interact with countless different cultures on any given day. As we grow up, these interactions shift from friendly playground encounters, to group project work, to daily interactions in the workforce. While we all interact with multiple different cultures every day, it is easy to focus only on yours and fail to see how the other ones might be affecting your interactions. Following is a list of 10 facts and tips to keep in mind when interacting with those from a culture other than your own:

  • It isn’t ignorant to ask questions about their culture, it’s inquisitive.

There is a huge difference between being ignorant and being inquisitive. If you’re ignorant, you’re assuming certain things about the culture without knowing the facts behind it. If you’re inquisitive, you’re assuming you don’t know the facts about the culture, but you obviously care enough to find out. Most people from other cultures are flattered that you would want to hear about them and their background!

  • If they offer you something, you must accept.

It’s considered rude to turn down something that is offered to you. Whether that is a meal at their house, an item in their shop, or a trinket you noticed while out shopping, if they offer it to you, decline a few times, but in the end, they’ll expect you to concede. That in mind, be careful what you compliment. By telling someone that the decoration on their table is really cute, it may sound to them that you would like to have it, so they may offer it to you. It’s fine to give out compliments, jut be aware that you might be going home with a new scarf!

  • Have them teach you about their culture, whether it’s a fact, some language, etc…

Similar to number one, they are almost always excited that you want to hear or learn something about their culture. So much so that they will spend an hour teaching you how to say hello in their language until you have totally mastered the pronunciation. Take the time to let them teach you about their culture, it is one of the biggest compliments that they can receive.

  • Show them that you’ve learned the next time you meet them- it will show them that you care.

By showing them that you remember what they taught you, you are showing them that you really did care enough to learn, and commit to memory, something about their culture. Again, this is a huge compliment.

  • Don’t ever expect timeliness (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow your time).

Most cultures outside of America run on a totally different schedule. There is no pressure to worry about time because what needs to get done will eventually get done. This doesn’t mean that you should show up 30 minutes late to your scheduled appointment, it just means that you should bring some homework or a book to read, because you will most likely be waiting for a bit.

  • Once you have met them, you are their friend and they are yours.

Everyone is your friend and you are everyone’s friend. Treat them this way. If you see them around, greet them. Ask them how their family is or how work is going. All it takes is one meeting and the friendship is solidified.

  • They don’t always have the same rights in their home country as in America

In most 3rd world countries, minorities are still fighting for the right to vote, women might not be able to leave their houses alone, and parents might decide your profession for you. Knowing this, don’t tell them that their culture is behind the times, unfair, or wrong. In fact, don’t bring up these differences at all unless there are brought up to you. Just be aware of the differences so that your actions can be politically correct.

  • Dress, actions, words, everything is most likely more modest in their culture.

Be more moderate when you are around someone from a new culture for the first time. Still be yourself, but be aware of what you say, how you talk about the government or how you are dressing. Try to be as middle of the road as possible, leaning towards conservative- personal business is personal business, and when in public, it is your job to be modest.

  • When interacting with someone from a different culture or religion of a different gender, let them take initiative in physical greeting.

Depending on the culture, it might not be appropriate for men and women to touch. For this reason, let them initiate the greeting. If they reach out to shake your hand, accept. Until you know how they are shaped by their and American culture, let them take the lead.

  • They want to hear about you, but don’t dominate the conversation.

They do want to know about us and how we see the world- some of my favorite conversations have been debates on the differences between cultures. However, don’t just go on and on and on about American culture the entire time. Chances are, they’ve likely experienced what you are talking about, or have heard it before. You however, might never have heard anything about their culture before.

Written By: Career Peer Nicky

Tell us what you think: What is your number one tip for working with different cultures?


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