No, it's not Christmas in July. Here's a clue.... it's about embracing the world's diversity. And I don't mean by grabbing a meal at your local Chinese eatery. Give up?
30 July is International Day Of Friendship. The International Day of Friendship was proclaimed in 2011 by the UN General Assembly to foster the idea that friendship between peoples, countries and cultures can build bridges between communities.
This is a special day for me, given my penchant for embracing the world's diversity. In fact I began it at 6:15 this morning with a 6-minute radio interview with Spencer Howson of 612 ABC Brisbane on what the International Day of Friendship means. You see, many Australians would feel that shaking the hand of someone from a different ethnic background would be an ideal way to celebrate this day. In fact, the very opposite might be the case. You see, there are a plethora of ways to meet and greet in different parts of the world. Using the wrong one may end up constituting a serious cultural faux pas and cause serious offense!
Here's what I mean:
China: Although handshakes are increasingly used in business, bowing or nodding is the common greeting for the Chinese. Men will wait for ladies to offer their hand first before extending theirs. Good eye contact and politeness is expected, which are considered expressions of sincerity. If there are several people in the group, start with the most senior, from the nearest to the furthest, and move towards the more junior.
India: In India, there are seldom handshakes between men and women due to religious beliefs. The “Namaste” is used, a non-contact form of salutation traditionally preferred in India & Nepal. The word “namaste” is spoken, commonly accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. It is Sanskrit in origin.
Muslims: With Muslims, it is unacceptable for members of the opposite sex to touch or maintain direct eye contact if they are not married or directly related. The greeting of "Salam aleikum" (peace be upon you) is issued when meeting someone, to which the other replies "Aleikum salam."
Orthodox Jews: As with Muslims, it is unacceptable for members of the opposite sex to touch if they are not married or directly related. The acceptable greeting is "Shalom."
Japan: Greetings in Japan are very formal and ritualized and bowing is the customary greeting. The higher the seniority, the deeper the bow. There is little or no eye contact.
Germany: Firm, brief handshakes may be accompanied by a slight nod of the head. While this may appear subtle, the nod is very important. And yes, women may initiate the shake. Eye contact during introductions should be direct and maintained as long as the person is addressing you. Failure to maintain direct eye contact in greeting and in conversation will give the impression that you are shifty.
So why do we need a day like this?
We need it because it is all too easy to pigeonhole a foreign culture into a category that we have constructed in our own minds based on judgment and flawed perception.
We need it because there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ culture. Just different ones.
We need it because we can form more meaningful connections with people of other cultures by respecting their customs and not causing offense.
And we DESPERATELY need it for world peace.
What I'd like you to do is simple: 1) Find a colleague, friend or stranger that has an ethnic background that is different from your own. 2) Find out the acceptable way to greet them in their own culture. 3) Now go do it and wish them a happy International Day Of Friendship!