The opportunities for us to share and learn from other cultures are all around us. Just yesterday I was talking with my barrista, Akiko. As I placed my order for a green tea frappucino, Akiko suggested that the next time I ordered one, I might like it the way they prefer to drink it in Japan. “Ask for extra green tea powder and hold the melon,” she recommended. In less time than it takes to sip a latte, Akiko had cracked open my worldview just a bit and I learned something about her culture that I hadn’t known before.
And not long ago at my favorite Chinese restaurant, my host Mee pointed out a silent way to thank the server who pours you tea by tapping your index finger near your cup. Mee shared the custom behind the behavior with this short story. During the Qing Dynasty the emperor decided to disguise himself in order to travel freely among his people. One day he served his servant tea at a local teahouse. To show his respect for such a great honor without giving away the emperor’s identity, the servant tapped his bent index and middle fingers on the table as his bow of gratitude to the emperor. Since that time it has become a symbol of thanks in Chinese tea etiquette.
My friend Miguel speaks English fluently, but he likes to pepper his conversations with Spanish words as an easy and non-intimidating way to teach others who are unfamiliar with his language or culture. I always leave my interactions with Miguel with the feeling that I know just a little more about the world than I did before we started talking.
Simple conversations and brief interactions across cultures, yet powerful gateways to greater global awareness and understanding . . . Oh – and the next time you’re about to order your own green tea frappucino, be sure to give Akiko’s recommendation a try. You might like it.