What's rude to you or I might not be rude to other people.
If I invited someone to my house for dinner and afterwards they let out a huge belch, I would think that would be rude. Not so in some cultures I've heard where a good burp after a meal is a compliment to the chef.
In some countries it's quite rude to beckon someone to you with your finger. It suggests a sexual tone, but it's nothing to do that here. "Come here," people say while motioning them with their finger.
Speaking of fingers, I know in some African countries if you stick out your thumb to hitchhike it's the same as flipping someone the middle finger here. Imagine trying to hitchhike at the I-82 entrance on Midvale by flipping all the cars off as they go by. Do you think someone would stop? Maybe, but not to give you a ride.
I started thinking about how different cultures act and communicate when my wife last night told one of my friends he was getting old. She was just kidding, but when she said that it reminded me of an episode from "King of the Hill."
If people aren't familiar with this TV show it's a cartoon on Fox about a redneck propane salesman, his family and friends. His name is Hank Hill.
Hank has a neighbor, named Kahn, who is from Laos. Thailand and Laos border one another and my wife, who is Thai, actually speaks Lao.
In one episode of "King of the Hill," the Hills invite Kahn's family over for dinner. After dinner and Kahn's family is leaving, Kahn's wife sees the shoes of Hank's wife and how big they are. She puts them on and walks around saying, "Look at me, I'm Peggy Hill."
My description of the scene might not do it justice but it was hilarious.
I started telling my friend some of the things Thais do that are totally acceptable there but would be considered rude here.
The Thais are very polite people. They will cover their mouths when they are talking on a cell phone in a group of people. I always thought it was funny to see a bunch of people on the subway talking on their phones with their hands over their mouths.
It's also not uncommon to walk down the sidewalk and see someone at a sidewalk cafe picking their teeth. They have their hands out in front though, so you can't see the details.
Perfectly polite, but I've never seen it here. People just pick their teeth in the states.
Of course, it's nothing to see a Thai person with their finger buried to the knuckle while picking their nose. That's OK over there.
There are things us westerners do over there the Thais find rude.
The whole idea of an old folks home is unthinkable. We talk too loud and are probably too aggressive. We wear our shoes in the house. We don't cover our mouths when we talk on cell phones in a crowd.
Stuff like that.
But the Thais can do things, too, that are considered rude.
Back in 1998 I was in Northern Thailand and I decided to go on a trek in the jungle. There were eight other foreigners with me. One was a girl from Norway and she was, to put it nicely, rather large. On this trek we were to ride elephants.
We were in the back of a truck waiting to head out to the jungle when the driver came back and said to the large Norwegian girl, "OHH, I feel sorry for the elephant."
He didn't understand why everyone got so upset. What he said was rude, but he didn't mean it in a rude way. Although I don't know how else he could have meant it.
My wife has introduced me to her friends and within two minutes time they have no problem pointing out how "very fat" I am.
When I moved to Thailand a guy I went to college with also moved there. He met some Thais and during the holidays they took him back with them to their hometowns.
He spent about four days there and was instantly liked by everyone. My friend Bob is quite large himself, probably pushing 300 pounds. He told me when he returned that everyone had nicknamed him Chang Noi. I asked him what it meant and he said, "Little elephant."
Life is funny like that. Like I say, what's rude to some people is not rude to others.
My last trip to Thailand I saw someone I hadn't seen in a while. He said to me, "You are looking so smart."
I was in awe. "Thank you," I said.
It wasn't until a few days later I figured out that's a nice way to say you are so bald. You see, the Thais say people who go bald have big brains and are very smart.
I wanted to go back and give the guy the unacceptable signal of hitchhiking in the states, but I didn't. Some people are just rude without trying to be rude.