Nation/World

Bridging Cultural Gaps

A roomful of business people practiced hand signals Wednesday morning that would be considered vulgar in much of the world.

The circular “OK” hand sign might be harmless in the United States, but that gesture in Turkey could start a fight.

Likewise with “thumbs-up.” Here, it indicates success. In other countries, it denotes a sentiment that won’t be printed in this newspaper.

Experimenting with gestures was part of a cultural sensitivity workshop held to help prepare the business community for an international convention to be held this August in Spokane.

The 1997 Subud World Congress will bring 3,000 people from 82 countries to Spokane for two weeks. Visitors from such countries as India, Indonesia and Japan will be wandering downtown streets and eating in Spokane restaurants. Their children will play in Riverfront Park.

It will be the city’s largest international gathering since Expo ‘74.

Tourism officials are going to great lengths to reduce possible cultural misunderstandings between the convention attendees and members of Spokane’s hospitality industry.

Americans, for example, regard direct eye contact as a sign of honesty, said workshop instructor Angela Wizner, of Organizational Communication Consultants. In countries such as Japan, she said, it indicates disrespect.

In the United States, two men might shake hands to greet each other. In Russia, they might kiss on the lips. In France, they’ll kiss on both cheeks.

Though most Subud members will be prepared for differences in American culture, it’s important for local residents to be aware, said Mina Gokee, director of convention sales for the Spokane Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Cultural awareness will be most important, Gokee added, for “front-line” staff, such as hotel registration clerks, waiters, and restaurant hosts.

The two-hour workshop covered everything from personal space to language to eye contact.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” said workshop attendee Kerry Friesen, who manages the Convention Center’s custodial staff. “We’re just going to have to remember how we present ourselves.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Businesses interested in holding sensitivity workshops may contact Angela Wizner at 255-9634.

See related story under the headline: Subud preparations intensify

Businesses interested in holding sensitivity workshops may contact Angela Wizner at 255-9634.

See related story under the headline: Subud preparations intensify



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