I once had an Indian friend tell me about a situation where she gave an American a ride home. When they arrived, the woman thanked her for the ride, got out of the car, and went inside her home. My friend was perplexed and somewhat offended. “Why didn’t she invite me inside?” she thought. Do you know where the communication broke down?
When I first heard this story, I had two thoughts. The first was, “Yes, that’s what I would normally do.” The second was, “Oh, no. The American probably didn’t understand my friend’s culture.”
My friend would never DREAM of someone coming to her house without asking them inside, even if they were just giving her a ride. Once the person was inside, food and drink would immediately be provided. Anything else would be considered extremely rude in Indian culture.
Thankfully, by the time my friend told me this story, she had lived in the U.S. long enough to know that the lack of an invite wasn’t meant as an insult. This type of casual interaction is common among Americans. We consider a ride home just a ride home; we don’t expect a ride to turn into a social occasion.
Although I was sad that my friend’s feelings had been hurt, her story reminded me of how important it is to understand people’s customs and traditions. It also highlighted how vital it is to give grace when you don’t know why someone acts the way they do. Obviously, understanding and grace are essential to all good relationships. However, these two factors can make or break a cross-cultural relationship, either personal or business.
Photo by Rachel Titiriga