“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”?


It says it all. Photo Source: Google Images

For those of you who visited my blog, and particularly read the article titled “Dinner with Linda Mom” would have no problem understanding what I will be talking in the paragraphs that follow. But for those who are new, I will try to refresh and walkthrough a bit. Last month, I with three of my friends (all international) went to have dinner with Ms. Linda. She is one of the hosts who help acquaint international students with American life-styles, and cultures. No doubt, they are doing a commendable job helping we the international students who are away from home, and feel home sick time to time.

So today’s article has connection to that dinner conversation. As we are all international students, Ms. Linda seemed very curious to learn about our cultures and tradition, to which we in rotation shared about our unique cultures and traditions alike. But she had one very particular incidence, which interested her the most, and needed our clarifications/opinions. It was aimed to Asian as a whole. Here is what she had to say: “Last year, I was attending a graduation commencement on invitation from one of my graduating international students. After the official ceremony, we were outside waiting for his friends. One of his friends, a female, approached him, and congratulated-‘Congrats, Uncle!’ I am still wondering why would she call him Uncle. Isn’t it so rude to say that?” Adding that she knew him so well that he didn’t have any nephew or wasn’t even married.

Almost immediately all four of us responded in unison. But later a female friend from India made it clear by relating to Asian cultures. As expected all of us had same reasons to offer-that in our culture we don’t address anybody older than us directly by their names. So she might have addressed him ‘Uncle’ considering the age difference, and that it is very normal, we said. I added that it was due to the very reason why we Asian students feel strange calling Professors directly by their names, which we feel is very disrespectful. She looked surprised upon hearing that, which eventually led to a small debate among us-Asian vs. American. LOL. But it was a healthy debate.

On enquiring what was rude about calling somebody older than us “Uncle” when they (Americans) were calling everybody, including their mom and dad, by their names, she gave us her reasons, and some insights of American cultures. “If we call someone uncle when he/she is not even related to you, its not okay. If you prefix ‘sir’ to their names, too, it gives them a false impression that you are distancing them away. The word ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr./Ms’ creates that gap. So if you use sir, he will think that you have either forgotten him or trying to be stranger…” she said in motherly tone. Although I was very shocked in my first year here seeing the students calling the professors by their names in class, I didn’t know until then that it would in fact offend people, when actually we are trying to be respectful!

So the moral of the story is- when in Rome, do as the Roman do! The culture differs, and we got to respect them!

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