I thought I had the basic cultural norms figured out: kiss both men and women on the cheek when you meet them (unless you are a man yourself, in which case you shake hands with other men). Seems simple enough, no? And one would think that after living a year in a foreign country, one would have the basic rules figured out.
But it just so happened that I didn't...
As I walked into one of my students' house, I did what I found appropriate, which meant kissing her and the other lady present on the cheek. All was fine until the second kiss...when suddenly it seemed as if not only the women, but the world itself had frozen in time. The looks they gave me sent cold sweat pouring out of every orifice of my body.......what could I have possibly done wrong?
After fidgeting uncomfortably for the next hour and a half in my class without knowing what had happened, I ran out and called a local acquaintance of mine...what had I done wrong? I was then scolded for for committing a define faux-pass greeting the "nana" (housekeeper) as if she were a real human being (of course it wasn't explained to me in these terms). "Don't you know that you are not supposed to greet 'the help' with physical contact?" "Um...no............"
I have to admit that I was quite taken aback...I mean, I'm all for stepping back and letting other cultures live as they do. Who am I to criticize? But this was out of my "no criticism" range; I found it unacceptable not as a Ukrainian, not as a woman, not as a leftist, but as a human being to live by this unspoken rule. To me, people are people, so why not greet everyone the same way?
So what has happened since then...? Have I just started to adhering to cultural norms that I probably should respect? Well, not so much, but on the good side, I've gotten pretty used to the terrifying stares aimed at me when I greet yet another one of the not-quite-human "help."