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Monday, April 11, 2011

Cultural greetings while volunteering in Asia and the Middle East

“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountain” – John Muir. We have looked at cultural greetings while in other places around the world, but in Asia and the Middle East, it all becomes a bit trickier. First and most importantly, remember that when in Asia you cannot assume to know which language someone is simply by their looks, using a the wrong language in greeting the wrong person, may be very offensive, for instance a Chinese person would not take it lightly if referred to as a Japanese person.

Smiling while saying “hello” is never a bad idea, but in some Asian cultures smiling is reserved for informal occasions, if done in formal occasions it is viewed as disrespectful. Do not be alarmed either if some Asians avoid eye contact with you, this is seen as a sign of respect.

In Philippines, cheek kissing can be used as a form of greeting, here the practice is done from cheek to cheek once; right cheek to right cheek. It can be done between a woman and a woman and a woman and a man who are friends. In children the practice is limited to relatives only. It is best to use cheek kissing after a previous introduction has been made; it is not common to be practiced among those meeting for the first time. However in areas of Asia where the culture is predominantly Hindu or Buddhist, cheek kissing is uncommon and can be considered offensive, so avoid this especially in front of the locals.

Some words for greetings in Asia may include the following; in Mandarin we have “Ni hao” and you may say “Salam” and in Japanese you can make use of “Konnichiwa,” where as in Korean you say “Annyeong.” Finally we have “Chao ong manh gioi?” which is the Japanese translation for “How are you?”

While in the Middle East the most important thing to remember is that most locals around this area are very religious. In India we have Hindu, and in Arab speaking countries we have Islam. Around these areas it is best to avoid direct contact with members of the opposite sex, as their religions and customs discourage it, especially if you are not a member of the same religion.

Among Muslims “Assalam Alaikum,” which means “May peace be upon you and may God's blessings be with you.” is the most common form of greeting used. In India you will have to take account of cultures, languages and even social status while communicating. There are a number of languages in India, some not recognised by the central government, your best bet in India would be Hindu, where you may say “Namaste”, it is said with hands folded and a small gesture of bowing, it literally means “I bow to you.” In a more formal situation you may use “Namaskar,” it is usually used to address people of importance and has the same meaning.

Cheek kissing in the Middle East is also quite common, especially between friends, relatives, and lovers. Cheek kissing between males is very common, but, cheek kissing between a male and female is usually considered inappropriate, unless within the same family or between husband and wife. However, keep in mind that it is also best not to use this form of greeting in the first introduction

The information provided here will help you get a general idea of what to expect when volunteering in Asia and the Middle East. However for you to get the best out of your volunteering experience, try and be certain to whom you are speaking with in these areas, it might get you out of a possibly uncomfortable situation, well in advance.

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