Succeed in America

Overcome Cultural and Linguistic Barriers. Improve Effectiveness 

Sexual Harassment or a Compliment? — Gender Interaction Across Cultures

man and woman faces vector profilesSocially acceptable behavior varies across cultures—what holds right in one society may not be so in another. Consider this passage by Laura Klos-Sokol, cited in Riall W. Nolan’s book “Communicating and Adapting Across Cultures”:

“Imagine a professional meeting beginning like this: a woman enters an office and introduces herself, extending her hand to shake only to have him kiss it. Next, he helps her off with her coat and takes her by the arm to usher her over to a chair three feet away. This is the Polish way: she could sue for it in the United States.”

Many times I have encountered similar behavior in my native country. This was part of good manners and was considered ‘classy’ behavior. In some cultures, males are expected to be dominant and gallant. On the other hand, when I first experienced the American ‘bear hug’ in Armenia with a man from the US, it made me very uncomfortable and I was relieved that my fellow countrymen were not there to witness such a gesture.

Expats who have been sent to the US must consider the unspoken rules of gender interaction accepted in this country. Not knowing the rules may have a traumatic effect and even be dangerous from a legal perspective—the employer may be sued for sexual harassment. On the other hand, a female student of mine from northern Brazil once told me how she missed that whistle of admiration – or tease, I thought— from the men when she would pass by. [pullquote] whistling is not something you would expect a man to do in the American workplace, even if you are Sophia Loren, Melania Trump, or Miss America.  [/pullquote]

It may be normal in some northern Brazilian workplaces to whistle when an attractive woman passes by, but whistling is not something you would expect a man to do in the American workplace, even if you are Sophia Loren, Melania Trump, or Miss America. 

Men in Italy are notorious for whistling at attractive women in such a manner that would make many American construction workers blush. Italian, Brazilian, and Armenian women may not take offense at such behavior and may even take it as expression of appreciation. As a rule, however, professional women in the US do not appreciate it. It can be very disturbing and threatening for North American women and they may deem it inappropriate and discriminatory. As a nation, Americans are committed to equal rights for women. For this reason, women are expected to be treated as equal to men. 

Many countries throughout the world have laws guarding against sexual harassment in the workplace. However, different nations have different interpretations of them. That is why I define sexual harassment in my book, Ameri$peak , as “inappropriate—from an American standpoint—behavior when interacting with the opposite sex.”

(This is an excerpt from Dr. Nara’s article published in Worldwide ERC Mobility Magazine.

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tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about cross-cultural understanding and helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace. She
 speaks  and writes on Business English and communication across languages and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon amazon-underground-app-us-black.