Protocols For Meeting With People From Other Cultures

One goal of the Sharon Pluralism Network is to bring people from different cultures closer together by sharing information.
An overview of how to respectfully interact is outlined in these pages. 

At a crossroads in Iraq in the fall of 2009, American soldiers were instructed not to allow vehicles of any kind to pass through a certain intersection. A young Iraqi mother with three young children in her car drove into the area. An American soldier stepped forward and raised his arm and hand in the traditional American signal for “stop.” As it happens, in Iraqi culture, this same signal means “Come Forward,” and so the mother did. She and her three children were machine-gunned to death. We, who read about this, were horrified at this tragic killing, both for the useless deaths of the family members and the devastation that would haunt the soldier and those around him, when they realized what had actually happened.

A Literacy teacher in the Sharon Public Library brought this story to the attention of her English Conversation Class and wondered aloud why, as they were studying English, they had never thought to consider the language of gestures and their different meanings across cultures. And so, the class (which included foreigners and new American citizens from twelve different countries) began to study gestures and how they might be interpreted in different countries and cultures. The first result of this was the American Gestures Chart which is included in this packet. The second result was a regrouping of the information on that chart into separate charts for different cultures, making it easier to determine the information with respect to each group.

As different members of the community reviewed the charts, an excitement developed about their possibilities. People reading the charts began asking for more in-depth explanations of cultures and religions they knew little about. The focus shifted from negative to positive: from what American gestures to avoid — to how to be respectful and considerate when meeting and interacting with foreigners. The charts generally present basic guidelines that may not be strictly applicable to each group since there is much diversity within groups. Religious considerations sometimes overlap with cultural traditions so that people of the same religious groups may not adhere strictly to every tradition or example given.

Please note that while our community welcomes a number of other cultures, these protocol charts refer chiefly to those groups which have the largest numbers residing in Sharon, MA, specifically, the Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Jewish, Muslim, and Russian cultures.

In compiling the charts, we also observed that there is a large amount of variability within cultural or ethnic groups. Reactions to the items discussed may vary greatly depending on many factors, including the region where a person lived in his or her native country, the length of time spent in America, age, and personality.

This is definitely still a work in progress. As different members of the community continue to review the charts, all suggestions for revision are considered and weighed as to their importance and/or their ability to clarify a particular topic. Revision has been on-going. However, In the interest of forwarding this project to publication, the charts will now be reviewed semi-annually for additions, corrections, or improvements.

The goal of the Sharon Pluralism Network in collaboration with its partners* and collaborators* is to bring people from different cultures closer together by sharing information.

* Adult Center/Council on Aging, Sharon Community Youth Coalition, Sharon Education Foundation, Sharon Interfaith Religious Leaders, Sharon Police Department, Sharon Public Library, Sharon Public Schools, Sharon Recreation Department, Literacy Volunteers of MA Stoughton/Sharon, and Youth LEAD

Protocol Charts by Culture, © by the Sharon Pluralism Network, Sharon, MA, January 1, 2012 — Draft #4.