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Asian Manners and Etiquette

Asia is very broad a term and includes several cultures. Due to the Euro-centric nature of our teachings, it is vitally important to divide the parts of Asia in order to understand its many manners and etiquette. The basic culture around these regions is collectivist, in other words highly interdependent, and more socialized than the European-based individualistic nations. Mannerisms stemming from this collectivist society value family, spirituality, and honor. It is impossible to talk about all mannerisms found in Asia; however, let us list some of the mannerisms found in the specific regions of South, South East, and Eastern Asia countries that will help us communicate better with people from Asian cultures.

Southern Asia (India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan, Bhutan, and the Maldives)1

India’s subcontinent status allows it to be very unique. Their official religion is Hinduism and so ill treatment of cows or bulls is seen as offensive. Bull fighting or speaking of bull fighting may not be seen as entertaining in this society.

Physical contact should be kept to a minimum and when greeting close hands together and bow. This form of greeting is used throughout Asia and is seen as more respectable of one’s personal space than the handshake. Keeping eye contact with people from Bhutan is seen as very impolite, but know that it is alright to stare at crowds, but individual eye contact is seen as rude.

All these countries are collectivist in family planning and child rearing, meaning that family involvement is a must. For instance, a marriage cannot form without the consent of parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and older siblings in some cases. Also, all these countries, including a lot of the Eastern and South Eastern Asian countries, find it disrespectful if one walks into their house with shoes on, so make sure to take off shoes when entering into one’s home.

South East Asia (Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Singapore)2

Littering in Singapore is highly disrespectful and laws forbid littering to the point of jail time for second or third offenders. Littering in some cultures is seen as a sign of disrespect to the community and most Asian cultures with the exception of India and Bangladesh have strict anti-littering laws, although Indian metropolitan cities are more likely to enforce anti-littering laws than Bangladesh’s cities. 

Putting one’s feet up is seen as very offensive in Thailand. Stepping on books is also seen as offensive in Cambodia and Thailand. Greeting any of these nationals must be made through bowing and less eye contact. Eye contact should never be held for too long in conversations especially with the opposite sex.

Eastern Asia (Excluding China, Mongolia, Japan, and North and South Korea)

Mongolian culture is dispersed, and many manners include nodding as a form of respect. Speak only when spoken to for children and education in these cultures is a must. Japanese businessmen and women are never blunt and clients must establish a social relationship before business relationships can start.

Bowing, holding less eye contact, and addressing one by their titles are important mannerisms for these cultures.

Chinese Manners and Etiquette

Never talk about siblings as many of the population in China are one child families and this may seem as ignorant on your part. Never talk about democracy openly as you may get arrested for conspiring against their government.

There are many tribal Chinese women who must not be physically touched as that is a sign of a marriage proposal. Mostly, Chinese manners include strict discipline, bowing as greeting, and avoidance of asking about siblings.

As a whole, remember, never to stereotype, and understand that personality and culture are two different things. Someone’s manners may simply be part of one’s personality and have nothing to do with their background. Remember when traveling, it is best never to offer a handshake first, and follow the example of what everyone else is doing in order to avoid offending anyone. Make sure you know your way is not the right way; you must respect the different cultures as you want your culture to be respected.

Sources

1 “ASEANWEB – ASEAN Member States.” The Official Website of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Web. 22 June 2010.   <http://www.aseansec.org/18619.htm>.

2 “South and Central Asian Affairs: Countries and Other Areas.” U.S. Department of State. Web. 22 June 2010. <http://www.state.gov/p/sca/ci/>.