Elevate Difference

Going Dutch in Beijing: How to Behave Properly When Far Away from Home

Anyone who’s ever had a formal meal with a native Beijingian will know that it is socially taboo to offer any contributions when the bill comes. In Going Dutch in Beijing, Mark McCrum thoroughly informs his readers of everything local concerning greetings, table manners, and wedding and funeral customs. He expresses intent on preventing offensive behavior for his traveling readers, but thoughtfully goes beyond his purpose. While still informing readers of do’s and don’ts, this book also elicits just how many differences exist between every culture, a variance that is precious in an ever-shrinking global community.

McCrum’s cultural scope varies throughout each chapter; it’s a book that borders on travel guide and intercultural study. Readers will find “pocket-guide” practical information when he dutifully reports the meaning and interpretations of greetings and gestures across the globe (complete with illustrations). However, sometimes his study is so extensive it’s easy to get lost in the details, losing focus on the country in which it’s unacceptable to cross your fingers or how many kisses you’re expected to give when meeting someone. Fortunately, McCrum also provides more clearly organized lists of behavior that will most definitely win you death stares if you’re lucky, and perhaps something far worse if you’re not. For example, he urges readers to never ask for Turkish coffee when they’re visiting Greece and to always make use of the cloakroom at Russian theatres and concerts.

Even though you might never find yourself in a situation where business cards are as much of an extension of yourself as your familial history, McCrum’s information for the business traveler reflects the deeper customs of a culture. The priority of friendly relations before business deals in counties across the Atlantic and the border reveal the importance of family and social time in the lives of most Latin countries. Similarly, the American adage of “if you’re not five minutes early, you’re ten minutes late” is non-existent in many non-English speaking countries where arriving about an hour after the specified time is more expected. Understanding these differences will not only help business travelers in creating a rapport with clients, but can also give folks whose casual Friday is every day clues about the cultural core of a country

While McCrum dutifully reports customs from every nation near and far, Western readers might find the less familiar traditions more entertaining for arm chair travel. For example, don’t ignore beggars in the streets of the Philippines or Arab countries where the greater the benevolence the grander the person and the stronger the faith. Or, if you find yourself in Madagascar during a festival, don’t be surprised if you see the corpse of someone’s relative dancing along with the parade in his or her brand new shroud. McCrum devotedly offers hints for conscious travel on six of the seven continents. It’s a perfect book for the reader who is more interested in proper behavior at a dinner party in Tokyo than where to find the best deal on sushi.

Written by: Sara Custer, June 2nd 2008