Basic Tips for dealing with other people and cultures

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Cultural Clues and Cues
African Americans

African Countries: Eritrea and Ethiopia
Culture: Eritrean
Language: Tigrigna
Culture: Ethiopian
Language: Amharic

Eritrea existed inside Ethiopian political boundaries for decades before gaining independence in 1993. These two peoples have fought a long war, including an armed conflict over borders until the cease fire in 2000. People of different ethnic groups live in these countries making the cultures within the two countries a composite of different groups. Eritreans may prefer not to be equated with Ethiopians and commonly request Tigrigna interpreters.

Body Language: Eye contact by a child with an adult or with the person in charge is considered disrespectful. Looking down is considered respectful. But it is OK for the person in charge to request eye contact while giving instruction.
Speech should be soft and is thought to be polite even when giving instruction. It is considered rude and aggressive to speak loudly.

Social situations: An Eritrean child’s parents were called to the school because the teacher complained that the six year old was touching other students on their shoulders, backs and hands.

Explanation: The child making body contact with another of the same gender, such as hugging or putting an arm around the shoulders is expressing friendship, affection and closeness. Acceptable levels of touching should be explained to children who are new to the US.

A child who seems quiet in class may be perceived as shy. When in fact children are raised with the expectation that they listen to elders, and are taught not to talk back.

Dating is a cause of concern. Parents are offended that there is talk of dating in the school or neighborhood. In their culture, marriage is usually arranged by parents. Dating is rare.

Communication with these families can be tricky. They may not read or write English. Parents expect schools to take immediate action, and to notify them if there is a problem as soon as possible. They are not used to initiating communication with he school or community center. Parents may not understand that participation is valued, and assume that it is the school or community center’s responsibility to deal with the students.

Countries: Ethiopia, Kenya (East Africa)
Culture: Oromo
Language: Oromiffa

Some African cultures may be very old and have remained distinct, with members residing in more than one country. We must remember that political borders in some parts of the world have been redrawn more than once, frequently forming new boundaries that split areas where members of a culture live. The Oromo are an example of a group who seek to retain their identity and language and would prefer Americans to refer to them as Oromos rather than Ethiopian.

Body Language: Touching a person on the head signals a negative intention or insult.

Eye Contact: Eye contact with an adult or authority figure while being disciplined is considered disrespectful. But it is appropriate for the boss or teacher to request it.

Scenario: An adult summons a child with her finger indicating “Come Here”. The child responds with an angry expression and mumbles something in his language which seems to the adult like a lack of respect.

Explanation: From the child’s point of view, the disrespect is in the adult’s hand gesture. The student refuses to be belittled, and expresses concern.

Food and Eating: Pork and pork products are not allowed. Food is eaten with the fingers of the right hand. Western utensils may be used in homes in America.

Giving Gifts: Gift giving is accepted, and reciprocating with a gift of similar value is appreciated. Supporting others with help in time of need is encouraged.

Names: Male and female children are given their father’s first name as their surname, and keep this name throughout their lives.
Social Interaction: It is customary to yield to a person of higher authority. A group that doesn't accept a higher authority may risk condemnation or punishment.

Respect for adults and elders is expected. But the elders and adults must maintain their status by being model citizens, worthy of respect.

Formality is expected. An adult or authority figure may confuse others by being too informal and causing disrespectful behavior.

Dating without parental consent or promise of marriage is not allowed.

Health Practice: It is customary to see a doctor only if one is seriously ill, since clinics here will not prescribe medicines for minor illnesses such as colds and flu.

Religious Practices: The majority of Oromo in the U.S. are followers of Islam, reflecting a Muslim majority within Ethiopia. Other Oromos have adopted Christianity. Members of the two faiths co-mingle peacefully. Holidays such as Ramadan and Eid al Fitr, a feast day at the end of Ramadan, are observed here by Muslims.

Country: Somalia
Culture: Somali
Language: Somali

Background: Somali society is an Islamic society with Islam as the major influence on cultural practices. Ohio, especially Columbus, has a large Somali population, consisting of those who emigrated in the last few years. Some adhere strictly to the rules of the Islamic faith, and there are those who are less strict. A long war disrupted this country since 1991, and continues to affect the public services, including public education, usually provided by the government. Many of the Somali students have not had the benefit of free, Somali public education before leaving their homeland. Some Ohio students have spent time as refugees outside their country before coming here.

Body Language/Eye contact: Eye contact with an adult while being disciplined is considered disrespectful. In fact, in one-on-one conversations (child/adult, employee/boss, student/teacher), looking down is considered respectful. It is appropriate, however, for a teacher to request a student to look at him/her during instruction.

Personal space: It is generally considered inappropriate to come closer than one step from a person. To come any closer would cause discomfort to another. Exceptions to this are seen In girl-to-girl interactions and boy-to-boy Interactions. It is common for same gender friends to hold hands, hug, or touch.

Using your fingers to request someone approach, a beckoning gesture, is considered demeaning to the person signaled.

Clean vs. Unclean: Feet are considered unclean: A Somali would never put his or her feet on a piece of furniture, because feet are not clean and should remain on the floor. Pointing to a person with one’s foot is considered very disrespectful.
The right hand is considered clean: It Is the polite hand to use for dally tasks such as eating, writing, and greeting people. Somali parents often discourage left-handedness:

Social Situations: Mrs. Smith, the boss, entered the room and met a Somali gentleman who had just moved to the city. She held out her hand and introduced herself, intending to shake the man’s hand. He refused to shake her hand. She wondered if the man disliked her or disapproved of her, even though they were meeting for the first time. Explanation: Americans typically shake hands in greeting, and a refusal to shake hands may be understood as a sign of rejection or disapproval. The Somali rules of culture and Islam forbid him to shake hands with a female who is not a close relative. Some less conservative Somali men, or those who have accepted American custom, may do it. Shaking the hand of an opposite gender family member, women shaking hands or men shaking hands are all acceptable.

Young Somali boys who recently came to the U.S., may simply walk away from their trays and trash in the lunchroom, leaving their mess for someone else to clean up. Explanation: In Somalia, food preparation and cleanup is a part of the female role, and they are discouraged from entering the woman’s domain.