Keeping Your Hands in Your Lap

September 13th, 2010

Embarrassing Cultural Mistakes

Last night I was out with the girls to say goodbye to two who were heading off to China to teach English at a university.  This is their third year to do so, so there were stories being told about embarrassing past mistakes made while living or traveling in a different culture.  Anyone who has traveled much at all certainly has some stories to tell about this painful experience.

Also present were two Irish friends, plus several others, including me, who travel frequently and to far flung places.

Watch Your Mouth

Well, we got to talking about the meaning(s) of various hand gestures around the world.  Now I knew a few, both from personal directed usage, as well as from some unintentional mistakes.  But the variety of insults that can be conveyed quite unintentionally really surprised me.

The Irish girls demonstrated quite a few that were very, very bad, but that I could have easily have made without knowing it.  You know, I really try to “watch my mouth,” as my mother would say (really, quite ineffectively, I might add), but I’m thinking I had really better keep my hands under control as well.  Who knows what kind of trouble I could get into?

Watch Your Hands

I was thinking I should keep my hands in my lap to be safe, but then I remembered what happened to my daughter, Eve, when she was an exchange student in Chile.

Here in the United States it is good manners to keep your free hand in your lap while eating.  But Eve was chastised one evening after she first arrived:  “Eve, you need to keep both hands on the table at a meal.  Who knows what you are doing with that hand in your lap (wink, wink)?

We must all be careful with our mouths and our hands when we travel, but we don’t have a clue how to do that.

Maybe I’d better keep my mouth shut and sit on my hands, just to be safe.

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