“It is my duty”: A Lesson in Expectations and Cultures

Tuesday, December 3, 2013, by Eliane Karsaklian

it is my dutyWhen we talk about politeness, do we really know what we’re talking about?

I was in China, giving a speech to an audience of purchasers from China, Japan and Korea.

My host was Korean and he was the boss for all the participants.

Right after he introduced me, I said that I wanted to thank him so much for being there and sparing time to introduce me.

As a Westerner, I would have expected him to reply: not at all, it is my pleasure. Or, you are very welcome.

But, he just said: it is my duty.

Then if you were in my shoes, you would perhaps think: a) that is rude, or b) well, I am almost a burden to this guy.

What can be pejorative in one culture can be flattering in another one. Doing one’s duty is well seen and appreciated in several Asian countries. He was not only sincere but polite in saying that to me.

What is reproachable over there is not doing your duty. It means that you let (many) people down.

Manners vary from culture to culture and the do’s and don’ts lists are sometimes useful for that, although not always accurate or complete.

Such lists may cover gift giving manners, eating etiquette and some ways to address people, but I have not seen any that would stress this type of situation.

And one can really feel uncomfortable when not prepared to that.

Thus, we should never take our habits and beliefs about manners and etiquettes for granted. The worst thing that can happen when you are working abroad is to be surprised by this type of situation and get so puzzled that you don’t know what to do, or to say.

You need to be prepared to not be prepared. If you know that you will be surprised very often, then you will not feel so much in a panic.

It is your duty to do your homework before going abroad and trying to get as much information as possible about the local habits in business as well as in daily life.

  • Salma Dinani

    Very good points. Different cultures all have different customs and it’s important to respect them.

  • Andy Lockhart

    Having worked in Asian, I fully understand these different cultural norms that you have to be aware of. Thanks for sharing

  • Sophie Bowns

    Ah; I’m not sure of any Asian cultural norms…this was very interesting!