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Culture Snippets.

Living in a diverse region like Asia Pacific brings a lot of opportunity to interact with different cultures and views of the world. Having time to kill at the Mumbai airport waiting to back to Singapore I'd like to share a few observations:
  • When you meet people in Malaysia or Indonesia you shake hands with men always and with women if the start holding the hand out. After the handshake you put your hand to the heart to indicate that the greeting came from the heart where honesty is located. I find this gesture quite charming.
  • Business cards are handed with two hands all over Asia in a way that your counterpart can read the card. Also you don't stuff business cards away but key them on the desk during a meeting. It is expected, that you actually read them.
  • In India when a team is asked to work on a presentation, they will not pick one team member to present the result, but share the parts of the presentation within the team to present.
  • Eating roadside food in Mumbai is fun, at least if you have local colleagues who can pick the right stall and explain what you are eating and the story behind that food.
  • For European ears Thai language is surprising, since the base tone is higher and intonation is on the end of the words
  • There is no such thing as "The English language". There is "the family of languages referring to some degree to English". I like English spoken by people from Beijing best
  • While an English man would state: "It looks like there is an issue and we have to evaluate options.", the same message in Singlish gets compressed to "So how?"
  • 300 seconds are 5 minutes, at least on every watch. When asked to deliver a pitch in 5 minutes or less in Mumbai, it can be anything between 100 and 1000 seconds. And if you cut the speaker of after 5 minutes they are actually puzzled that you do so. (I wouldn't cut anybody off in a customer or public event, but in a training exercise any time)
  • Where ever you go, insist with your hosts to try local everyday food. It is lighter on the travel budget and great fun to sample new things. And your hosts see a human side when you appreciate or struggle with the local stuff. Hotel or high end dining is usually rather detached from local habits.
  • Read the local newspaper in the morning (if you understand it), so you can make small talk with customers. They like when overseas guest are aware of their place
  • When your counterparts struggle with language, pull out your white board markers and draw on the board
  • We react to body language much faster than we can think. I struggled quite a while with the Indian head shake, which is a sign of affirmation, not a negation
  • Germans are considered not to have humor.
  • In Malaysia it is considered rude to use your index finger to point (and that other finger too). So people will use the thumb, pressed to the closed hand to point directions

Posted by on 16 May 2008 | Comments (2) | categories: Intercultural


  1. posted by Theo Heselmans on Saturday 17 May 2008 AD:
    Good to know info Stephan.
    I've dealt with Asian people before, and wish I had known some of that stuff upfront!
    Some Germans do have humor Emoticon wink.gif
  2. posted by Slawek Rogulski on Monday 19 May 2008 AD:

    I would say that while there is an English family of languages Singlish doesn't quite belong to it. The DNA (grammar) of the Singlish "language" is too far removed for me to be part of the same language. Still it's curious to see what has become of or what is possible with the Queen's English as it were.