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Question
Posted by: Concerned | 2008/05/28

Explanation please

Hi everyone,
I'm black and in my culture calling someone using your finger is seen as disrespecting or undermining the character of that individual - so I dont do that even when calling a street cat!
My concern is that i'm now at a new workplace and one of the secretaries did exactly that to me yesterday! It reminded me of a similar incident in my previous workplace, but that employee was known to be rude! (Both these individuals are white). Please dont construe this the wrong way as I dont intend to open a racial pandora box. I just need to know from other races, what it exactly means to call someone like that? What is it seen as? If it means the same thing across all races i.e disrespect, how do I ensure that she does not do that again? If it is normal in other races, I promise I'll just just let it slide in order to keep the peace!
Thanks!

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Our expert says:
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Interesting question. Within a largely single culture, it's much easier --- words and gestures mean what they traditionally mean, there's not much ambiguity, and we know when we ought to feel insulted ! In a multi-cultural soiety ( and with increasing globalization, we're meeting and working with people from a wider range of cultures than ever ) we need to learn about such things, but also to be flexible, and recognize that we should interpret a wording or gesture acording to the culture of the person doing it, and the context and their expression, rather than what it might mean of someone back home did the same thing. There are few gestures that have an absolutely universal social meaning.
Also, to help interpret such behaviour, watch how the person interacts among others of their own culture --- does she also wave her finger when calling other people than you ?
I suspect that in the course of your week, you probably do a number of things which SOME people in SOME cultures would consider rude and insulting. In some cultures it's rude if you DON'T burp loudly after a meal, to show the cook that you appreciated it --- in others, it would be considered rude and uncouth to do so. In some its considered deeply insulting if you sit with your leg crossed and show the sole of your shoe towards someone else. So obviously in some cases you can't win ( to burp or not to burp ), and in others you could be awfully insulting without having the faintest intention of being so.
Generally rude people tend to be especially insensitive, and are probably considered rude and clumsy even by people of their own culture. I think that in white culture such a gesture would not be automatically considered rude or offensive, though in the way it was done, the words, the tone of voice, the facial expression, it might become so.
I think it's a pity that I haven't found either a good local book or website that would help us interpret the signals of all our cultures --- rude, complimnentary or amatory ( awkward if you didn't recognize that someone was praising you or wooing you ), and so on. Now There's a good task for someone to take on as a hobby ! I'm sure I'd be glad to help get it published !

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Our users say:
Posted by: EL | 2008/05/28

I think it depends on how the expression on her face was? Can you remember? Any body language she used with that finger that made you feel that way?

Reply to EL
Posted by: No way | 2008/05/28

I wonder if your company would consider having a "Diversity Workshop", maybe you should suggest it to them. I believe ithat n a workplace we know when to draw the line, if your colleague didn't know better, she would address everyone including her boss, like that, so because she knows that it's wrong she doesn't do it. Unfortunately we live in a "culture" sensitive society, we are still learning a lot about each other, but some things are natural. One of my superiors used the word "sh it" sometime last week, and i said to him : i beg your pardon, in a way that showed him that I did not appreciate that word, simply because i would not use it in my grammar, he repeated his sentence and used correct words - had I let him get away with that, then that's how he was going to continue talking to me. Respect is a two way thing and you should let people know what offends you - whether it's allowed in their culture or not! There's something called "Corporate Culture" that we should get accustomed to in order to have a harmonius environment amongst people from different cultures and societies.

Reply to No way
Posted by: anon | 2008/05/28

Tell her exactly how that makes you feel, and u find that very disrespectful. And if she does it again tell her exactly where to get off. in a working enviroment every ones culture should be respected. And if you are taught that pointing your finger to sum1 is disrespectful then u stay with the lessons and good morals u were taught.

Reply to anon
Posted by: T-Bone | 2008/05/28

The 'trigger-pulling' action of summoning someone is rude. In any culture. An adult might summon a child by crooking his or her finger and then making the trigger pulling action with the wrist facing up. Its rude and you are not being sensitive. If anyone, regardless of their colour or culture, called me in that manner, I would be tempted to break that finger off and shove it you know where. Simply tell her its offensive and she should stop doing it, that's all. No need for World War 3.

Reply to T-Bone
Posted by: SBN | 2008/05/28

You are a bit touchy. You know different cultures behave and do things differently. If she said something rude whilst calling you with your finger, then she was rude. But I'm almost sure she wasn't and calling one with the finger means just that - come here please.
Start to look at the bigger picture dear. Next time someone offends you, explain it to them. That person can then tell you what he/she meant and you can then tell them you'd prefer them not to do it.
Be open minded of people from different cultures - you might surprise yourself by what you learn.

Reply to SBN
Posted by: SBN | 2008/05/28

You are a bit touchy. You know different cultures behave and do things differently. If she said something rude whilst calling you with your finger, then she was rude. But I'm almost sure she wasn't and calling one with the finger means just that - come here please.
Start to look at the bigger picture dear. Next time someone offends you, explain it to them. That person can then tell you what he/she meant and you can then tell them you'd prefer them not to do it.
Be open minded of people from different cultures - you might surprise yourself by what you learn.

Reply to SBN
Posted by: Leez | 2008/05/28

Just ask her, very nicely, to please not gesture in that way again. Explain to her that it means disrespect in your culture and you felt a tad offended, altho' she meant no harm. Simple as that.

Reply to Leez
Posted by: Coco | 2008/05/28

Concerned, I am sure that your work colleague meant no harm and certainly has no idea that she has offended you. We work in close contact with lots of people of different cultures so we have to be tolerant and understanding of each other. By calling someone using your finger is not a sign of disrespect, so I think that you are over-reacting on this one. Have you not ever seen someone call a waitron - they call them using their finger - to attract their attention!

Reply to Coco

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