Understanding Customs of Respect

People introduce and greet one another differently, depending on their age, social position, and relationship, but introductions and greetings usually show respect in some way. Customs of respect may vary in different cultures, however.

Part I: Go through the following list, check yes or no for each question or group of questions, then discuss your answers in small groups. Do the exercise twice, the first time for U.S./Canadian cultures, the second time for your culture. (There may be more than one correct answer.)

To show respect, do you introduce a woman to a man first? A younger person to an older person? A person of lower social position to a person of higher position?

Yes No

If a woman wants to meet a man, may she introduce herself and start a conversation with him?

Yes No

At a party, do you shake hands with everyone when you arrive and when you leave?

Yes No

If you invite some classmates to your home, should you introduce them to everyone in your family?

Yes No

If you see someone you know in a public place, must you greet him or her and make some polite small talk?

Yes No

Part II: Answers to Part I

Part III: Tell about other customs that show respect in North America and your culture. Ask and answer questions.

Exercises taken from Cross-Cultural Communication: A Competency-Based Listening/Speaking Book













 Answers to Part II: Understanding Customs of Respect

1. In the United States or Canada, the formal "rules" of introduction are: introduce the woman to the man, the younger person to the older person, and the person of lower position to the person of higher position first. But not everyone knows these rules, and if you make a "mistake," few people will notice. In other cultures, however, customs of respect like these may be much more important.

2. If you want to meet someone in the United States or Canada and you are in a safe situation, you can introduce yourself. It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman. Anyone can begin a friendly conversation with another person to find out what they have in common. But you shouldn't appear too friendly, or the other person may feel afraid. In some cultures, however, the customs for meetings between men and women may be more rigid.

3. A handshake in the United States or Canada is a polite greeting, especially in formal or business situations. But North Americans may not shake hands very often. People at parties usually shake hands only during formal introductions. In some cultures, however, it may not be polite to shake hands with women or children, and in other cultures, it's important to shake everyone's hand when you arrive at a place and when you leave.

4. In a social situation in the United States or Canada, you should introduce everyone in the room to everyone else if you can. If you don't introduce friends or classmates to family members, someone may feel insulted or left out. In some cultures, however, people don't introduce children to adults.

5. If an acquaintance sees you in a public place, it is polite to greet him or her. But you don't need to stop and have a conversation, especially if you are in a hurry to go somewhere or do something.