Graphic by Ashley LaFayette.
Students gathered for an event titled “Etiquette around the World” on Oct. 25. The roundtable presentation was led by Dr. Serafima Gettys, director of the foreign language program, and assistant director, Professor Lifeng Hu. The event is part of a series of Arts and Ideas events titled “Diverse Languages: Diverse Thinking.”
The presentation revolved around a question originally posed by American linguist, Benjamin Lee Whorf, during the turn of the 20th century: do the languages we speak influence the way we think? Gettys and Hu challenged the students in attendance to keep that problematic question in the forefront of their minds throughout the duration of the presentation.
Dr. Gettys brought up an example of the Australian aboriginal language, Guugu Yimithirr, and said there are no words for left or right in their culture. In place, they use the translations for east or west to indicate directions. Because of this difference, speakers of this language have a very keen sense of direction. This, Dr. Gettys said, would be an example of someone’s language directly impacting the way they think.
The three languages that were the focal point of this presentation were Russian, Chinese and Spanish.
Over the course of the presentation, Professor Hu discussed the proper body language to use when greeting someone in traditional Chinese culture. She mentioned that Chinese people bow at a 45 degree angle when greeting someone, but Japanese people bow at a 90 degree angle. She concluded her portion of the presentation by discussing how to conduct oneself during a meal hosted by a Chinese family.
As opposed to traditional U.S. culture, it is polite to leave food on the plate when one isdone with a meal to show they are full.
Among other things, Dr. Gettys discussed the etiquette revolved around drinking in Russian culture. She discussed the ritual behind toasting shots of vodka. In Russia, drinking vodka is very common, although a preson would never drink without a toast.
She concluded the hour-long presentation with the differences between addressing people in Russia and in the U.S.
Sophomore nursing major, Taylor Boelte, and sophomore Spanish and education major, Sita Patel, attended this insightful presentation. “The world is closer than ever given the way we communicate today,” Boelte said. Patel and Boelte agreed that a growing awareness of diverse cultures is pivotal to understanding each other thoughtfully and respectfully. After the presentation, Patel said, “The U.S. is a very diverse place, and that calls for a need for a growing knowledge of other people and their cultures.”