Balanced Melting Pot

Expressions of good will

In Cultural Expectations, Culture, Parenting, Questions, Social Norms, Thoughts, Traditions on April 20, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Last week, I greeted someone who I’ve been working with professionally for about year with a kiss on the cheek.  Another colleague came up to us immediately following that and did the same. Even though the other colleague and I usually don’t greet each other that way, she didn’t want me to feel left out.

The three of us then started talking about cultural differences around greetings and personal space. The first colleague, who is originally from Jamaica, said that she had a hard time adjusting to this custom when she first moved to South Florida. Apparently in Jamaica, you only shake hands in professional settings – anything else is considered an invasion of personal space. The other colleague, who is American, I have decided is an anomaly because her sense of personal space is almost non-existent.

This conversation made me realize two things. One – I am wrong to assume that all Caribbean immigrants have similar customs. Two – even though I am quite comfortable greeting fellow Haitians with a kiss, for some reason it seems strange to do with members of any other culture.

I realized a while ago that my daughter hasn’t figured out when to differentiate, so she when the situation presents itself, she kindly waits for her father or me to give her the signal as to which greeting is appropriate. I know that in the Haitian culture, if done improperly (i.e. just saying “hi”), it is considered very disrespectful.

Does your culture of origin require greetings different than that of Americans? If so, how do you teach your children to differentiate? Or, if not (or are American), do you mind adapting to what is appropriate for other cultures?

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  1. I made the same mistake a week ago. I had been hanging out with an American colleague, as we parted, I was on the phone and distracted, and kissed his cheek good-bye. He was taken aback! I only kiss my Haitian and European friends goodbye and have been thinking quite a bit about how I have to wait to see what customs certain people are used to.

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