I can't speak for the rest of the country, but we New Yorkers aren't the politest of people. Though I love my city very much, I think we could have just a little more patience. And I'm not just throwing my fellow citydwellers under the bus here; I'm including myself. I huff and puff when someone walks too slow in front of me. I avoid eye contact on my way to work. I've neglected to give up my seat to someone older than I on the subway.
Which is why it can be helpful to look outside the Big Apple for some lessons on kindness and respect.
Here are of the common practices from around the world I wish we all could incorporate into our lives:
In the country of clogs and tulips, birthdays are seen as a celebration not just of a single person, but her family as well. In other words: you're a gift to your family, so if it's your birthday, they should be congratulated as well. For example, if it's your husband's birthday, and your mother-in-law comes over, she'll say to you, "Congratulations on your husband's birthday," and you'd respond, "Congratulations on your son's birthday." Birthdays aren't just a celebration of one person; they're for everyone who helped make you who you are.
Why limit Valentine's Day to just one day a year? In South Korea, it's not just celebrated on February 14; the 14th day of every month has a specific kind of romantic significance. There's a day devoted to singles, a day for forgiveness, and even a day for hugging. No matter your relationship status, there's always going to be a day for you to celebrate love.
On March 8, Russians celebrate Women’s Day. Like on Valentine's Day, women are presented with gifts of flowers and chocolate, but it's not about romantic relationships — it's just about the women. They're given the chance to kick back and relax while the men do all the work. (Why, oh why, do we not have this?)
In Greece, there isn't a stigma associated with getting old like there is in the West. In fact, old age is honored and celebrated. Calling someone an "old man" or "old woman" is a compliment — because, with age, you accrue more wisdom and become increasingly central to the family. The older you are, the more valuable you become.
When you enter someone's home in Ghana, you're expected to greet every person there by shaking hands — even babies. That way, no one's left to be the unfamiliar guest in the corner no one acknowledges. The same goes for goodbyes. And you don't say "How are you?" just to be polite; you ask real, meaningful questions about people's health, family, journey, and so on, and you actually listen.
In the Philippines, you must give your seat to the disabled, pregnant, and elderly. Always. Anywhere and everywhere. Now, compare that to the New York City subway system. You probably won't see any man-spreading over there.
The Japanese show their gratitude in a very physical manner: by bowing. The lower you bow, the more respect you're showing to the other person. So, the younger person always bows lower than the older one. This custom is so important to the culture that children normally begin learning how to bow from a very young age, and companies commonly provide training to their employees in how to execute bows properly.
When riding alone in a taxi, sit in the front passenger seat next to the driver. Sitting in the back seat is akin to saying, "You're a driver, not a human." A little conversation never killed nobody. This applies in New Zealand as well.
Like in Australia, you're supposed to treat service-industry workers as, well, equals. For instance, if you enter a shop in Italy, it's considered rude not to greet the shopkeeper. If you enter a bar, say hi to the bartender, even if you're not ordering a drink. Just because you're there to browse and not converse doesn't mean you shouldn't acknowledge his or her existence.
In Germany, it is common practice to greet and say goodbye to strangers — anytime, anywhere. Think elevators, waiting rooms, shared tables. So, the next time you go to hit the "Door Close" button (which doesn't actually work) in the elevator as someone rushes to catch it, maybe think to yourself, Nah, I think this time, I'm gonna be German, and say, "Guten Morgen!"
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