As Oklahoma welcomes the Creativity World Forum this week, I’m considering what it means for Oklahoma to be hosting such a vast array of cultures and countries. Representatives from South Africa, France, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Brazil, and several other countries are in attendance. The many cultures represented will require many sets of protocol requirements.
The things we do every day to greet one another are unique to our cultures. Handshakes are expected in the Western world, but not so in Indonesia, as First Lady Michelle Obama learned last week. In Indonesia, it is inappropriate for a western woman to extend their hand to a male unless he extends his own hand first. The Information Minister of Indonesia, Tifatul Sembiring, insisted that his handshake with Mrs. Obama was against his will, but he shook her hand nonetheless. When President Obama shook hands with his Indonesian counterpart, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, he received a fatherly, hand clasping handshake, as President Obama had lived in Indonesia as a child and was being welcomed back to the country. This is customary in Indonesia for greeting a guest, but that very same handshake would not be appropriate in the U.S., as it is seen as somewhat condescending in business.
Citizens traveling throughout the world, whether for business or pleasure, are expected to understand greetings from country to country. This week as Oklahomans welcome cultures from the world over into our great state, be mindful of greetings and the cultural faux pas associated with them. Doing some homework on greetings is the easy part, pronouncing the name of your Indonesian counterpart might not be!Best regards,