Friday, May 31, 2013

Tara in China: Learning a new set of manners

Meet our friend, Tara.

In the People's Square.

Tara, an American, is  living and working in Shanghai, China. Tara is no stranger to adventure - she recently took a solo cross-country trip by train and wrote about it here - and we were delighted when she took the time to write us about her current experiences. Thanks for answering our questions, Tara!

How much importance do you place on adapting to local etiquette and culture while traveling in general?

Tara: I think it is really important to understand the local culture when traveling.  I don't want to offend the local people by being inconsiderate or ignorant to their own ways of living.

How did you prepare yourself for any cultural differences beforehand? And what are your tips for handling these differences in the moment? 

In an effort to educate myself on Chinese customs, I read several travel books, learned some basic Chinese phrases, and searched the internet for information about living in China. I also talked to a friend who has lived in China for 8 years about her experiences.Did it help?  I think so.  I was prepared for the spitting and the slurping of food, and I know strangers wouldn't necessarily smile at me or want to exhange a "ni hao" as we passed each other on the sidewalk.  There are things that you just can't prepare yourself for until you experience them, though.  For instance, the pushing in crowds is something you can't really understand until you are getting on the metro at People's Square on a busy day.  There is nothing else like it...I think you just have to try to keep in mind that "rude" and "polite" are social constructs and that they are also very subjective.  I would advise people to try very hard not to take things personally and to just go with the flow. 

Are there occasions or events that have a certain etiquette and exist only in China? Have you found any etiquette habits in China that you really like and wish were more present in the U.S.?

There are so many!  For one, pregnant women are supposed to stay in bed for the first month of their pregnancy.  They don't wash their hair or even move unless necessary... Really, Chinese medicine in general is fascinating.  I don't know if that really fits into "etiquette" or not, but there are lots of rules about what you can and can't do based on your health...I also like the way people have meals in China.  If you go to eat with someone, you never order your own dish.  Everything is served family style, and you share all of your food.  Many tables have Lazy Susans so you can spin the food around more easily.  I really love that.  People here love to share food.  Even if you bring your own lunch to work, you always offer some of it to your coworkers. 

Have you had any particularly sweet or surprising or interesting moments in etiquette you'd like to share?

Yes, I have had two really nice interactions with people on the subway.  The first was one morning when I was on my way to work.  A man in a business suit was sitting on a crowded train, and I was standing in front of him holding onto the railing.  He insisted on giving up his seat to me.  I thought perhaps he was getting off at the next stop, but he actually got off on the same stop I had, which was at least 15 minutes later. 

Another really sweet moment happened one night after work on the subway.  My stop for work is the very last stop for the train, so I always get a seat when I get on because it's the first stop going back.  I sat down next to an elderly Chinese lady who was knitting.  I have done some knitting myself, so I asked her (using body language because my Chinese is terrible) what she was making.  I asked if it was a sock, because it kind of looked like a baby sock.  She shook her head no, and I asked if it was a glove.  She shook her head no again and asked for my cell phone.  I handed it to her (reluctantly) and she put it into what she was knitting.  It was a tiny Chinese dress that holds your cell phone.  She kept saying something to me in Chinese, but I didn't understand her.  Finally, some other people on the subway told me that she wanted me to have it.  I said thank you and asked her (in Chinese!) how much she wanted for it.  Again, the people on the subway had to translate for me that she was giving it to me as a gift, for free. 

The knitted cell phone holder!

What etiquette differences have you learned throughout the ordinary moments of each day?

It's still weird to me that you don't tip anyone here.  You don't leave a tip for your waiter at a restaurant, for a taxi, for a massage, haircut, etc.  I still feel kind of guilty, and sometimes I tip anyway.  Also, when you go to a restaurant, you don't wait for the server to come to you.  When you are ready to order or when you want a refill or more food, you yell "fuwuyuan" across the room to get their attention.  And when you are ready to pay the bill, you yell "mai dan" to have them bring you your check.  For the first several times I went out to eat, I thought this seemed so rude, but now I quickly call the waitress over to my table and ask for the check with no problems. 

Shopping is a tricky one.  Depending on where you go, the prices are negotiable.  For instance, if you are purchasing items in a mall, you always just pay whatever the sticker price says.  But, if you are shopping at a market on a street, you are expected to haggle with the shopkeeper.  I'm really not good at this, especially because the prices for things are already so much lower than anything I'd pay in the U.S.  For example, I went to the fabric market two days ago to have some clothes custom made.  I went to a scarf shop and bought 7 beautiful scarves.  The shopkeeper first told me the price was 30RMB (or about $5USD) per scarf.  I bargained with her and got all 7 scarves for 105RMB (or about $17USD total).  I still don't feel comfortable with doing this and have a friend accompany me on my bargaining trips.  I have a few friends who are really good at haggling over prices, so I let them do the dirty work…The rule of thumb is to offer them 10% of their original asking price and then negotiate from there.

Thanks, Tara!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Kindness in the classroom

Teaching is a noble profession—think of the role teachers have in a child's life. As we believe that kindness has an important place in the classroom, we must share this Washington Post article, written by George Wood. 

Wood, the superintendent of the Federal Hocking School District in Stewart, Ohio, retired this year after serving as principal of the Federal Hocking Secondary School for 21 years. He is also the founder of the Forum for Education and Democracy.

We are struck by much in his article, but he got us in the second paragraph with this his simple call to action: "Be nice."

Wood shares his memories of the teachers who became true guides and friends—those who gave him pants to wear when he needed them; who comforted classrooms when Kennedy was assassinated; who brought students on special field trips, giving them windows into a larger world, making them feel that they could be a part of it.

"I know I learned a lot of academic stuff too, but what stuck with me were the kindnesses shown when, more often than not, I did nothing to deserve them," he writes. "Nothing more than being a student, a child, who happened to be in their classroom."

Teachers are still working in classrooms to make a difference, he writes, but these days, "it is harder for us to be nice to kids," he writes.

He blames elevated standards, increased testing, zero tolerance laws "and other Draconian rules" that make it hard to forgive mistakes and help children navigate their world.

"Getting tough on kids will not make them tougher or any smarter," he writes. "...Turning a deaf ear to the needs of kids, to moments when we could be kind rather than just follow the rules, does not help kids learn anything except that those in charge are operating at the lowest level of ethical reasoning."

Go on, give it a read—you'll be glad you did.

Friday, May 17, 2013

NEW Day 5: 10 Quotes

National Etiquette Week ends today! But that doesn't mean we have to neglect etiquette the rest of the year. We all know that a little bit of kindness goes a long way in creating a brighter world of respect and civility. And if we forget, here are 10 quotes to help us remember!

"Count your age by your friends, not years.  Count your life by smiles, not tears." John Lennon

"Civility – though you may live in a different world ideologically, you live in the same world physically.  Play nice." —  ChooseCivility

"When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt." —Henry J. Kaiser

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." —Plato

"Today you are you, that is truer than true.  There is no one alive who is youer than you!" —Dr. Seuss

"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see." —Mark Twain

"A compliment is verbal sunshine." — Robert Orben

"Be real.  Try to do what you say, say what you mean, and be what you seem." —Marion Wright Edelman

....And remember...

"One kind word can change someone’s entire day." — Everyone!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

NEW Day 4: Fun with Family

Why not get the family involved in celebrating National Etiquette Week?

Inspired by our own family experiences at home, the Perfectly Polished classroom, and "The Family Dinner" by Laurie David, here are just a few ideas on how to introduce etiquette and manners to the whole family. Some of them are conversation starters, some encourage good table manners, and some are just fun ways to connect with each other!

Etiquette Fun with Family

Try the classic “I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking….” game. Go around the table, with each person adding an item to the list—after repeating all of the items already mentioned. You can make it trickier by following certain word patterns.

• Keep a Show & Tell Bowl on the table. Family members add found objects to the bowl throughout the week; designate a meal for sharing about these items.

• Put together a playlist for:  1.  Fixing dinner; 2. Eating dinner; and 3. Cleaning up dinner.

Water….just plain? No!  Add lemon, lime, cinnamon, mint, cucumber, orange slices….just not all at the same time!

• Google "napkins folds" and try your hand at fun shapes for napkins at dinner.

• The ABC Game:  Pick a letter and category —for example, "animals that start with the letter B"—and get to naming!

• Spell it, define it, use it….learn a new word each week.

Serve soup in tea cups, desserts in stemmed glasses, and hot chocolate in small bowls.  Yes, it is correct and you heard it from the experts at the Etiquette & Leadership Institute!

Come back tomorrow for a NEW wrap-up!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

NEW Day 3: 10 Conversation Starters

Happy National Etiquette Week! Let's talk about making conversation.

You'd think that talking should be easy, but making meaningful conversation can be hard.
Sometimes a gap in conversation is a comfortable silence among good friends, and sometimes it's terribly awkward. Getting a conversation going can also be difficult.

We suggest having a few ideas for conversation starters at the back of your head before going into a social situation. Depending on your setting and company—family dinners, dinner parties, teen parties, even an etiquette class!—you can rely on any number of our...

10 Conversation Starters

• What is your manners pet peeve?

• Is it better to burp or sneeze at the table?

• What could you do to help someone who is hungry?

• If you could be any character from a book, who would you be and why?

• If you could be any character from a movie, who would you be and why?

• If you could plan a perfect menu, what would it be?

• If you could plan a perfect vacation, where would you go and who would go with you?

• Who is your favorite teacher and why?

• What is the most fun thing you have done during the summer?

• If you could build a car, what would it look like?

See you tomorrow for more NEW etiquette tips!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

NEW Day 2: 10 Things for Your Community

Happy Day 2 of National Etiquette Week!

It's easier than you think to include good manners in your everyday life. Not only does it brighten your day, but it also builds a connection with the community around you. Good feelings all around! Why not follow our to-do list...

10 Ways to Help Others with Manners!

• Hold a door for someone.

• Compliment three random strangers.

• Help someone with their groceries/packages.

• Buy someone’s newspaper/coffee for them.

• Help someone who is lost.

• Smile at five strangers.

• Write a thank you note to the teacher that changed your life.

• Leave a generous tip.

• Sing your favorite song out loud.

• Pay the toll for the car behind you.

See you tomorrow as we continue to celebrate NEW!

Monday, May 13, 2013

NEW Day 1: Manners & Meals

Welcome to National Etiquette Week

We talk a lot about good manners benefiting society in a lot of ways, some of them subtle. Right now, we're going to focus on some more tangible results —specifically related to manners and meals.

Knowing how to set a table is a life and career skill, especially for those pursuing hospitality careers. All of us need to know how to set a table for guests at least once in our lives! But there are other benefits beyond that.

According to The Family Dinner Project

• Keeping a conversation going over dinner is good for your health. It takes around 20 minutes for your stomach to feel full after eating, and a good chat with family and friends can replace mindless eating.

• Teens who regularly dine with their families are less likely to smoke cigarettes, use marijuana or abuse alcohol, according to a Columbia University study, while researchers at Harvard have found family meals encourage a child's language skills and may improve school grades.

• Family dinners increase healthy eating, and can reduce obesity.

If you want to have more family dinners but feel like you don't have the time or resources to  get food on the table, or to get everyone together at once, check out The Family Dinner Project's tips on how to make it happen.

Come back tomorrow and learn how manners can help your community!


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Coming soon: National Etiquette Week 2013!

Please join us as we celebrate National Etiquette Week! 

We believe that etiquette and good manners is all about being kind to others, and isn't that worth celebrating?

National Etiquette Week (NEW) was established in 1997 by Sandra Morisset, a children's etiquette consultant, as a way to raise awareness of the importance of courtesy, civility, and good manners in everyday life.

The theme of this year's NEW, held May 13-17, is "Put the Civil Back Into Civility." Civility is a vital part of the professional and social realms—business, social, dining, travel, technology, wedding, and international protocol. But we also need civility in everyday life.

Just imagine:

• Taking a break from digital screen time to be fully present with loved ones.

• Finding ways to say "Hello" or "How are you?" to colleagues throughout the work day.

• Replacing negativity, judgmental attitudes, and condescension with gratitude, acceptance, and happiness.

Next week, we'll be posting daily with easy tips on how to be more mindful of your manners, and how to use those manners to brighten the lives around you. We'll remind you how manners help nurture friendships, build meaningful connections with others, and put a smile on your face! Good manners do make an impact in your community!

So join us next week as we celebrate NEW 2013!