We have a new puppy, and watching her integrate into her new environment has got me thinking about the importance of manners and communication in successful relocation. It has also shown that it doesn’t matter how cute you look, how nice your temperament or how big you’re going to be one day, if you ignore the basic rules, you are still really, really annoying..
It’s also made me realise how universal the rules are; greet in a way that’s acceptable to your new acquaintances, defer to the more experienced or senior, listen to what their body language is telling you, say sorry quickly, don’t take offense and share the water bowl nicely. Good behavior gets rewarded, and being unpleasant means less friends to play with. And don’t bite.
For those without the dubious benefits of a houseful of dogs, here’s the human version.
1. Correct forms of address. They may be difficult to pronounce, you may struggle with the correct titles or differentiating between personal and family name, so be prepared before you go. A simple phrase book will give you basic guidelines for the accepted forms of address and how to pronounce them, so practice them at home before you try them out on your unsuspecting new acquaintances. Use phonetic spellings on Post-it notes or flash cards to keep as a reminder of people you meet, and don’t be afraid to ask for a reminder from a friend or colleague. If you have access to cultural orientation training, this is a great time to practice and be corrected.
2. Mirror body language. Studies show that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and where human behavior is concerned, we tend to replicate the body language of people that we like which in turn makes us perceived as friendly and pleasant. It also shows sensitivity towards other cultural and religious behaviors, so practice observing and emulating. Draw a line at copying the accent though…
3. Acknowledge your mistakes and take ownership of them. When you enter a new environment, whether a work, social or living one, you are under stress, however small. Its a primitive fight/flight awareness, and it changes the way we react to situations. With relocation however, this stress is more constant and at a higher level than normal, ue to the wide range of unfamiliar situations that we find ourselves in. Few of us give the best impression of ourselves when we have just spent three hours trying to get electricity / internet connected using phrase book Mandarin / Swahili / Urdu, so mistakes are inevitable and understandable. When you realize that you have made a mistake, take ownership of it immediately and apologise. And then move on; endlessly revisiting it is just awkward.
4. Least said, soonest mended. I once had delightful students from China staying with us, but at every mealtime, when asked if they liked the dish that I had painstakingly prepared, the reply was “It’s ok”. In Britain, when someone uses it in that way, it means mediocre. I bit my tongue for about six months, until one day the question of use of ‘ok’ came up in dinner table conversation. It transpired that they thought it meant wonderful, and their faces when they realized how unsuspectingly rude they had been was a picture of mortification.
You too will be a victim of the of the communication breakdown trap, but don’t assume offence is deliberate and if it happens, ignore it and move on. People rarely are intentionally rude, but global differences in use of body language, personal space, tone, hand gestures and volume are endless, so there is plenty of room for error. So be slow to take offense, and err on the side of caution in responding to perceived insults. And hope for the same levels of tolerance in all those you inadvertently call a horse’s behind..
5. Host well. If you invite people to an event, the time taken to make the feel welcome is essential, and speaks volumes about your level of respect for them. This includes planning a refreshments that are appropriate for them, taking into account dietary preferences, religious observances and anything else required to avoid making them feel awkward. It doesn’t have to be lavish, but it does have to be thoughtful. The phrase that sums up what you are aiming for? Honored guest.
6. Be gracious as a guest. Be gracious for what you receive, from whomever you receive it. People are often judged by the way they treat those around them, but all too often those actually providing the service are ignored. “Please”, “Thank you” and good eye contact should be the very minimum we offer.
And as a final note, if you make a mess on the carpet, please at least attempt to clean it up..