Culture and Behaviour

“On your right!”

During my visit to Seattle in the United States, my routine included a long walk every day. The walk was through a path in the woods in one of the many forested areas around Mercer Island. During the walk I met many people; joggers, cyclists. Many of them would smile and greet me.

One day while I was walking, I heard someone calling out, “on your right!”. I quickly moved to my right and was almost knocked down by a cyclist.  I quickly apologized. Being an Indian, I had interpreted the call as a request to move to my right. In reality, the cyclist was telling me that she was on my right, and I was to move to my left. This to me was confusing; As an Indian, I am used to being told what to do, and hence interpreted the words as an order to move to my right! Well, an example of cultural differences in Communication!

I came home and my daughter explained that these were the words used by Joggers/ walkers to signal that they were on my right.  

That was not all; the very next week, again, during my walk I heard ”on your right!”. And again, involuntarily, I jumped to my right and almost bumped into a jogger with his dog; again there were profuse apologies by both of us!

Why did this happen? Though I knew the right interpretation of “on your right”, I reacted differently. I realized that though I knew the cultural interpretation, my reaction was involuntary.  Cultural knowledge is easy to acquire; culturally apt behavior may take a much longer time.

Many of us learn about cultural difference. However, to translate this knowledge to culturally appropriate behavior may take much longer.

That’s why when I travel abroad I cannot be without my big bindi. My children tell me that it goes well with Indian dresses but not with other outfits. Yet, I continue to wear it though I find myself getting into long explanation about it; especially to those who look at me curiously!

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