The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.
My wife could verify that 1) I'm not at all afraid to make cultural blunders and 2) I am quite proficient in doing so. My top 3 cultural blunders:
3) The Interlock-I find a seat at hospital morning chapel and settle into singing the Kenyan praise song, "We will praise you in the morning, We will praise you in the noontime, we will praise in the evening, we will praise you all the time." We finish singing and the pastor requests that we hold hands with our neighbors. So I reluctantly (like every man feels) go in for the clasp handshake with the man to my right and the man to my left. I'm thinking the only decision here is: Do I go palm forward or palm backward? Oh no. It's much different here in Kenya. My neighbor goes for the interlock...every finger no less and even the thumbs. And it was a good prayer the pastor prayed, but also such a long, long prayer. I still believe it was the longest prayer I've ever head in my life.
2) The Air Shake - The first thing I tell any Western visitor is that greeting Kenyans by shaking hands is very important. A simple hello, or nod...just does not work here in Kenya. Even if you enter a room with 20 strangers...you still take the time to shake every one of their hands even the children. I'm pretty much a hand-shaking madman now. I shake when we meet, some time in the middle of the conversation, and at least once or twice as we leave just to cover all my bases. It was my second day in the dental clinic and the following lady was my patient I went in right-handed for a hearty handshake and came up empty...a complete air shake. Strange...I thought. Next to her was her mother so I tried again with a right palm coming up high with my hand near my ear and swooping down right in front of her waist. But nothing...the patient's mother didn't even raise her hand. Another air shake. Before I could manage strike 3 in hands shakes with her sister...a kind Kenyan pulled me aside to say, "Somali woman do not shake hands with men."
1) The Kiondo -I really had some heavy dental supplies that were donated that I wanted to bring up to the dental clinic. I had seen many Kenyans using a Kiondo to carry fruit and vegetable with the strap around their forehead. I was told that using the head and the muscles of the neck with the weight of the material on your back is the best way to carry a heavy load. So I loaded up my Kiondo with dental anesthetic and instruments and walked up to the hospital. Well, have you ever had a moment where everyone is looking your direction and pointing and laughing and so you turn 180 degrees to look behind to see what is so funny...and then you realize there is nothing behind you but wide open space. And then you know they are laughing at you and you have to turn back around and acknowledge their laughter. So thanks...only later did I find out that men do not carry anything in Kenya (even their child)...and especially not a Kiondo strapped around their head.
Does anyone have a cross-cultural blunder they would like to share?