One of the college’s administrative departments ended the fall semester with a holiday party for its student workers. Small presents were handed around and one by one the students opened their gifts, except for one young man, who began to look increasingly uncomfortable balancing a gift bag on his lap.
“In my country, it’s considered rude to open a present in front of the person who has given it to you,” he explained, clearly worried that the office staff would be offended.
The moment illustrates, in a small way, the challenges that people can encounter when living or working with individuals from other cultural traditions. Simple customs and behaviors that one person takes for granted may differ from ideas held by those with a different cultural background. And these differences often remain invisible until conflict emerges, leading to misunderstandings large and small.