Being Culturally Competent-3 Faux Pas to avoid

I enjoy using the term Faux Pas, but I think it is worth defining this term for all of us before I move ahead with today’s post. describes a faux pas in this way:

  • a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners, or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion.

As human beings we all make faux pas on a regular basis.  I have found that many of these occur because of cultural ignorance or just plain meanness on the part of others.

Today’s post will describe three of the most common faux pas I see and why you should avoid them.  Ironically, I was the victim of one of them just yesterday, so this is very fresh on my mind.

Common Faux Pas to avoid

1.  Your accent is not nearly as difficult to understand as the last person I talked with from your region/state/country

I was talking with a customer service representative about a purchase just 24 hours ago when I heard this blurted out by this individual.  I turned the tables on them and responded, “I don’t seem to have any difficulty understanding you.  Where are you located?”  I have found that many people who make this kind of cultural gaffe don’t even realize that the person they are speaking with might take offense at the remark.

This situation occurred within the boundaries of the USA.  I see it happen often when people from different countries get together.

My advice would be to listen intently and ask for clarification when needed.  The worst thing you can do is to tell someone they “talk funny” or have a “strange accent”.  What we say and what we understand is based on experience and perspective.  Our lives allow us (or force us) to hear things in certain ways and have to work hard to “de-program” our listening and opinions so that we don’t come to conclusions or assumptions that might not be appropriate.

2.  I cannot believe you eat food such as <blank>.  Why don’t you eat <blank>?

Many cultures have differing views on what food is appropriate.  I just returned from India and eating beef there is out of the question.  Pork, chicken and fish were readily available, but beef is out of the question.  The wrong thing for me to do would be to criticize or critique someone about the reasons for their choice or belief.  They might ask me why I choose to eat what they find sacred or unfit.  How would I respond?

hamburger  food from india

The world is a big place and it is worth the time to do some homework about where you are going, especially if you are leaving the borders of your home country.

3.  That’s a funny outfit you have on.  Do you find that comfortable?

Each country and culture dresses in a different manner.  I must admit that many countries have been “westernized” to emulate what we wear here in the States, but not all adopt to the same degree nor should they.

I find the diversity of cultural attire to be refreshing and I wish I had more time in some of the countries I have visited and worked in to become more comfortable and accustomed to the attire.  My time in the Middle East helped me to learn more about why the dishdasha  is a common garment there and I became very comfortable with the sari worn by women in India during a recent trip there.


We live in a world with a wide variety of customs and norms.  Assuming that one way is the best way can be problematic.  In many cases it will cause discomfort or hurt feelings, and at the worst it can cause anger and deeper emotions to arise.

Take the time to learn more about those you deal with, especially when they come from a different culture.  Our business colleagues and competitors are not just those next door, down the street or across the country.  We now live in a world economy and the sooner we learn more about how others think, act and live, the better off we will all be.