In Burkina Faso where we worked for many years, it is customary to shake hands all around when coming into a room full of people, unless it is a big room with lots of people, of course.
We had just returned to the US from Burkina Faso. On our first Sunday home we were late for Church, Sunday school actually. I walked into a class which had already started. These were about a dozen people in chairs in a circle. My automated Burkina Faso reaction kicked in. I started going around the circle shaking everyone’s hand and softly saying hi. About 1/3rd of the way around the circle, it dawned on me that the class had stopped and everyone was giving a very perplexed look. I wondered, do I keep going, stop, or something else?
Oops, I thought, cross culture adjustment got me again.
Yes, like when Hazel Page (a missionary who lived with a tribal group in the Philippines) was on the platform at her home church and she said something about the pastor, and in typical Iraya fashion, when referring to him, she pointed with her chin. She was quite embarrassed about it! But I love your story–it’s a great reminder that all cultures have their own particular codes of politeness. 🙂