I am culturally offensive

All cultures are different. Dating rituals, for example, vary between people and countries, and what’s normal for you isn’t necessarily normal for other parts of the world.

People will like you more if you accept their offers of kindness. —Dr. Richard Fields

I had a professor in university who once shared that nugget of wisdom with me. It’s rang true time and time again in my life. For example, if someone offers to buy you a coffee, you should accept their offer regardless of whether you want the coffee or not. Think about it: If you accept the coffee, they feel good about themselves because they’ve done you a kindness. If you politely refuse the offer, they feel rejected.

And nobody likes to be rejected.

Here in South America, or more specifically in the Latin American culture, accepting offers is of the utmost importance if you want to make friends. When you’re invited to someone’s home for a meal, you’ll be offered a second helping. And then a third. Followed by dessert. And probably tea and coffee. After that, you might go for a walk and they’ll offer to buy you chocolate as a finishing touch. You’ll be so full it hurts, but if you turn down any of these offers, your hosts will be offended.

If I accepted all of the food and drink offered to me in these countries, I’d be 300 lbs with diabetes. Graham the Whale, they would call me.

Another cultural custom I initially failed at was kissing. Here in Latin America, people kiss you on the cheek when you arrive. And when you leave. You kiss when you awake. And when you go to sleep. I was at a lunch party last week where I kissed no less than 17 people before leaving. Goodbyes here take time.

I’ve written about kissing before. It’s seriously important.

My CouchSurfing host, bless her heart, sat me down for an honest chat one night.

“I must ask you, are you always this distant?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Distant?”

“Well, you never kiss me or hug me when you leave or go to bed.”

I offended my gracious host without even realizing it. I know I can be dense sometimes—naive, some might say—but I like to think I know when I’ve offended somebody so I can at least apologize. That, however, has not been my experience thus far.

Lesson learned: Be extremely sensitive to the culture of the people you’re living amongst. Observe those around you and ask if you feel you may have offended someone. Learn the customs. And most importantly, appreciate the differences.