I think it’s fair to say that all cultures think highly of good manners and that all aim to raise their children into being polite. I guess it’s a universally understood fact that those traits will help us in getting along with the surrounding world more efficiently.
We are different as human beings, so different that in fact with most people I think we have more differences than we actually share similarities. This is one of the main reasons it’s smart to hang on to your close ones, you’ve already jointly decided your similarities are more important and that your differences make you both interesting. So those general considerations of good manners, especially towards people we don’t know, are pretty important to uphold. They make us able to co-share our daily space despite of our differences sometimes making it very difficult to understand each other. Using them shows courtesy, respect and the willingness to try.
I’d say there are some general aspects of being polite we all agree on and that in some ways are cross cultural. Saying hallo, composing yourself at a dinner table, thanking when being given something, whether it’s a a verbal compliment or physical gift, asking for things nicely. That’s to say the actual areas where we are expected to apply politeness are probably general, whereas the carrying out of them may differ from culture to culture. Dinner table manners are probably not the same in France as in Japan, and the way you greet people is different even between the Mediterranean countries, or is it just I who never know how long the cheek kissing is supposed to go on between the countries…? Point being that in any of the cultures, there are table manners to relate to and there are greeting patterns to take into consideration. No matter how they are carried out.
But it is exactly knowing the way these type of general behavioral patterns are locally carried out that is in essence the difference of feeling part of a culture or not. No matter if you’re an expat in Portugal, on vacation in Croatia or a refugee in Sweden. If you don’t know them you can’t even begin to try to fit in. Some are easier to spot, others are buried deep down in the soul of the culture.
It is kind of amusing really to think of specific little things that are embedded in the culture like that.
In Sweden, you cannot consider yourself being polite and be keeping your sun glasses on when greeting someone, especially not a new acquaintance. You show sincerity by looking into somebody’s eyes. In Portugal, no one attempts to even semi-lift their sun glasses. In a country of strong sun and light I guess it would simply be inconvenient to have it any other way. Thankfully. I guess it’s the same consideration as when in minus degrees in Sweden you no longer have to take of your gloves when shaking hands in order to show you’re being polite. It would simply be inconvenient to have it any other way. Thankfully…
Which was the funny, strange or awkward cultural peculiarity you last reacted to? And did it make you feel part or left out of the local culture?