Bernie Anderson
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the blog

Current musings, whatever they may be. 

Cross-Cultural Self-Awareness

Americans are possibly some of the most casual people on earth. 


We show up to meetings late in casual attire. 

We love informal and colloquial. 

Many cultures have formality built right into the language. 

We don’t. 

And this works for Americans in America (usually). 

Traveling in Southeast Asia reminds me of how very different cultures can be, to the point of offense. 

Dreadlocked Westerners here tend to wear little clothing and take few showers, which is fairly offensive in this culture, albeit tolerated. 

But we should never assume toleration means approval. 

Two such tank-top clad, body odor ridden tourists came into a local place where I was having a meeting last night. They clambered in looking for cheap Thai beer and left when they realized there was none to have. While the staff was ever polite while they were present, I did notice the sideways glances when they left. 

I was glad to be appropriately attired in the long-sleeved shirt of a professional. 

Chinese culture is much more forward and more “in-your-face” than the “face-culture” that is Thai (and many other parts of Southeast Asia). While the Chinese tourists in Chiang Mai are tolerated, they can be quite offensive. 

Cross-cultural self-awareness is extremely difficult, especially in a place like Asia where outward kindness and tolerance is the cultural norm. 

So whether in Asia or in your home office, remember that tolerance does not necessarily mean a lack of offense.  

Be aware of how you’re perceived.