A medley of manners

Updated: Jul 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
With the world shrinking into one small village, globe-trotting has become as frequent as logging into your workstation. However, the cultures are yet to assimilate in the melting pot. Take, for instance, the dining etiquette of different countries which are as different as chalk and cheese.

Says Neil Payne, managing director, Kwintessential Ltd, a cross-cultural communications consultancy, In today's inter-reliant, international and culturally diverse world economy, cross-cultural differences can have an impact on business success. Both at an individual and organisational level understanding the values, etiquette and protocol of different cultures can positively influence your dealings in the worldwide marketplace. No arguments there!

Cross-cultural awareness therefore assumes utmost significance when it comes to basic parameters like seating, eating styles, body language, and over-food-conversation. For example, the table manners in Germany are continental -- fork in the left and knife in the right hand. Whereas in the US, the fork is held in the right hand while eating. To use the knife, the fork is again switched to the left hand.

Says Manish Gurung, formerly business associate, Hyundai, Though we did not have formal training on how to greet Korean delegates, we developed it naturally. For instance, shaking hands with everyone individually after a slight bow. A strict protocol is followed during dining. One must wait to be told where to sit and the most senior person must start eating first. Unfortunately for me, the learning experience came with a lot of embarrassment. I was so hungry that I started to eat and then realised that everyone was literally staring at me.

Can we just blame it on hunger pangs and get away with it Wish it were as easy.

For others, like Abhishek Mahapatra, the pearls of wisdom came without the embarrassment. He recalls his short stint as senior management associate in Percept Profile, Bahrain, I noticed that the Bahrainis dont like to discuss business on social occasions. And more importantly, tea holds a very special place in their hospitality. A refusal is considered a dishonour by them.

Comparatively, the dining etiquette in the US is simpler you can refuse food or drinks without causing offence and many types of cuisine are eaten by hand.

Poonam Afaria offers practical advice drawn from years spent shuttling between India and Australia as a business development officer in BHP: Dont experiment while ordering at a restaurant with your biz associates. Once a colleague of mine liberally dipped his sushi in the horse raddish, mistaking it to be our modest chutney. The flavour was very pungent but he of course could not afford to spit it out. Next he tried the Kangaroo steak and to his horror it was as hard as leather. Thankfully, this didnt happen in Germany where one must eat everything on the plate; or for that matter Turkey where it is considered complimentary to ask for a second helping, she adds.

Well, the aforesaid advice does not hold good in Japan where trying a bit of everything is considered good etiquette.

Esha Choudhury, a Japanese interpreter, says that as part of her duty, she conducts a small orientation lecture for Indians to avert any unpleasant incidents due to cross-cultural differences. Indians need to be told to be punctual when invited for lunch/dinner and also to wait to be introduced. Self-introduction is considered impolite after all.

The dress code holds no less importance. Says O P Vaish, executive member, Ficci, Once I could not keep a dinner invitation in Paris because I didn't have a dinner jacket. On Saturdays everyone comes very casually dressed and anyone in barest of formals looks the odd one out.

However, there are a few common things as well like the appreciation for discipline and punctuality. Priya Warrick, director, Priya Warrisk Finishing School, adds, To begin with, it is part of a good etiquette to remain standing until shown where to sit and keep sitting till everyone finishes. Likewise, it is bad etiquette to rest your elbows on the table.

In a nutshell, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. To start with, shall we try our hands on those chopsticks