Tag: courtesy

Saturday Serenity: Canadian Cultural Courtesy

Cultural Norms

It’s Saturday morning, and that means I am graciously staring out at Lake Michigan with a jumbo-sized coffee mug within reach, and thinking about this past week’s moments.

It’s interesting to me that a lot of my most thought-provoking moments seem to occur on the train or in grocery stores.  I have yet to figure out why this is so; nonetheless, I do have a ‘grocery store tale’ for you this morning!

After yet another hurried day, I stopped by my local grocery store to pick up a few things for supper (ah yes, a Canadian term which, when used here in the US, is often met with, “You mean ‘dinner’, right?”).  I noticed a young East Indian woman standing behind me, holding a bouquet of flowers.

Now at this juncture in my grocery store story, I must point out that my Canadian DNA kicked into high gear; that is, I turned around and said to the woman, “Oh please, go in front of me, you only have one item.”  It is the norm (and quite frankly considered rude NOT to offer the ‘line-jump’ to someone behind you if they only have one or two items and you are sporting a myriad of foodstuffs).  With hesitation, she moved in front of me, flowers in tow.

But what she did next made me immediately realize that my intention of kindness was not received as such.  After placing the flowers on the ‘belt’ (is that whey they call it?) she quickly grabbed the bunch and moved back behind me to her original place in line.


I had never experienced this before; you know, doing something kind for a stranger only to have it ‘refused’ for lack of a better term.  I wasn’t sure if I had unknowingly insulted this woman, or heaven knows what I had inadvertently done without purpose.

I felt an explanation was in order.  I turned around to her and gently said, “I’m from Canada and we always feel it is the polite thing to do to let someone go in front of us when they are only carrying an item or two.”  With a slight smile of understanding she replied, “It is nice to meet you.”

Here is what I learned from this seemingly unimportant occurrence.  It is so incredibly important to have empathy and mindfulness when it comes to the cultural norms and values of others.  There was a complete disconnect of understanding between me and this young woman.  I thought I was doing something nice; you know, it’s the “Canadian way” to be helpful and kind.  The young woman might have taken my gesture as controlling or inappropriate because I am older than she is, and perhaps moving in front of someone older than yourself in this circumstance is considered rude.

I find this utterly fascinating that neither one of our thoughts was ‘wrong’.  There was no need for feelings of ‘wrong-doing’.  Isn’t it interesting that we become so incredibly accustomed to our own cultural norms; however, it is only when we experience a different gesture or action from a culture other than our own that we have a realization of different ‘norms’ in the world.  In other words, we simply act in what we call our, ‘normal’ roles, and only truly identify that which we see as ‘normal’ when compared with other cultures.  This is our ‘normal’, and perhaps someone else has their ‘normal’.  What we need to remember is that neither ‘normal’ is wrong or incorrect.  Doesn’t it make sense for us to see the similarities of thought?  I see my grocery store invite as the ‘right’ thing to do literally as much as the young woman sees it as the ‘wrong’ thing to do.  The similarity is that both are the ‘norm’ to each person.

Norms We know there are misunderstandings that take place around our culturally diverse planet every minute of the day.  I wonder what it would look like if we began to hook into the fact that our views might be different, but what we call them are really the same thing (i.e. my normal, my values, my culture).

Am I going to let someone else holding a lone box of butter go in front of me at the grocery store?  Most definitely.  Will I be insulted if they choose to wait behind me whilst I have my cavalcade of cookies and such move down the belt towards the cashier?  No, I won’t.  I’ll simply smile and provide them with a ‘maple leaf moment’.  “Hi, I’m from Canada and…………………..”

Be Polite

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