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Test Your Cultural IQ - Asia & The Pacific


Q. You've just received word that your cat has died. You are telling the sad story to one of your foreign business colleagues and he laughs.

What is the meaning of his response?

A. In Asia, a smile or laughter might be used to mask another emotion such as sadness, embarrassment or nervousness.


Q. In what country is English the primary language of business although it is not the mother tongue of any of the residents?

A. English is the primary language in business and tourism in Singapore. It is considered the unifying factor between the three primary ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay, and Indian.


Q. In what country would passing food with your chopsticks be frowned upon?

A. In Japan, using chopsticks to pass food is associated with 'passing the bones of the dead.'


Q. The western gesture to indicate 'yes' is by nodding the head up and down, while shaking it back and forth indicates 'no.'

In what country is the reverse true?

A. In Sri Lanka, nodding the head up and down signifies 'no' while shaking it back and forth indicates, 'yes'.


Q. What country has been called the 'Land of the Smiles'?

A. Thailand has been called, 'Land of the Smiles' as the Thais smile so readily. The Thai people can be characterized as easy-going, fun-loving, pleasant, patient and hospitable. Foreign visitors should try to smile often.


Q. You visit the home of a Malaysian friend and bring a small gift of a toy dog for their child. Your friend is not pleased. Why?

A. Malays consider dogs unclean. It is therefore inappropriate to give toy dogs or gifts that picture dogs.


Q. In what culture would the gift of a clock be considered inappropriate?

A. In Chinese culture, a clock is associated with death however watches are acceptable.


Q. You and your Japanese friend are out shopping and you offer to buy her a set of four juice glasses. She becomes upset and declines. Why?

A. There are lucky and unlucky numbers in every society. The Japanese and the Chinese will go to great lengths to avoid using or giving items that are four in number. In both of these societies, the number 'four' sounds like the word for 'death'.

(Source: Raise Your Cultural IQ, Louisa Nedkov, Trade Winds Publications, 1999, ISBN 0-9684413-0-0)


Maori greeting in New Zealand...

The original inhabitants of New Zealand were the Polynesian Maori and, while they are a minority now, their culture still thrives, The oldest and traditional greeting among Maori tribespeople is to lean in and to rub noses.

(Source: Gestures, The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World, Wiley, ISBN 0-471-53672-5)


No hats for women in India...

As an Indian woman I can tell you it is not appropriate for visiting women to wear a hat in India other than during summer months. Indian women wear head coverings but not hats. A hat is not a fashion statement in our country nor is it part of our casual or daily wear. But as a tourist you do need to wear one during the hot summer months especially if you are travelling and always out in the sun. Or, you might find a beautiful headcovering in the market to wear instead.

(Submitted by Journeywoman, Shoma, United Kingdom)


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Back to Culturally Correct Dos and Taboos


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