Today’s guest post comes from Brad Sapit, a flight attendant with a major airline, living in Texas, based in Los Angeles and usually finding himself overnighting in New York.
Travel is not only about seeing new places and doing business in foreign lands, but its also about experiencing different cultures and bringing the world together as a closer place … with this in mind, Brad has offered up an excellent post on being culturally sensitive while serving the world.
You can follow Brad on Twitter at @brajit
So now, I present Culturally Serviced
Airlines are a melting pot of individuals, flying around the world twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Interline agreements are abundant, allowing Airline A to check-in a passenger from Dubai to Machu Picchu, on three different airlines, touching three different countries. Yet, many airlines fail to do what the British Tourism Authority has done to prepare for hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics: educate their workers.
Airlines in the United States should take a tip out of the BTAs playbook and do exactly the same. Educate their workers regarding the highlights of many different cultures. Just because an airline only flies in the United States or on a regional jet between Paducah and Walla-Walla, does not mean that a Japanese travel agency won’t book on your airline. It’s amazing the types of passengers I have come across in the last 12 ½ years of working in the airline industry, and the only training I received at both of my airlines was…nothing. Although not entirely on airlines, and considering the media hype of a flight attendant cursing out a customer over the PA system, I thought it would be a good idea to refresh everybody, not just FAs, of some basic, worldwide etiquette.
For instance, it is considered rude to passengers from the Middle East to serve them with the left hand. The left hand is considered “dirty.” (Don’t make me give a history lesson on this one…trust me, it is.) You should present all food and drink with the right, or both hands.
Our friends from Russia may not allow you to fill their glass with alcohol if it is being held in the air. I remember the first time I flew to Moscow and the entire plane began to clap upon landing. I was shocked. Of course, the American in me thought they were clapping because it was a good landing, but apparently, they clap after every good one. (Reminds me of the old adage, “A good landing is one you can walk away from.”)
Many Asian countries, Japan and Korea in particular, refrain from prolonged eye contact. Here in the United States, we are taught that looking somebody in the eye is a sign of attention-giving, although, we all know that is not the case (insert personal theme song here.)
Families from around the globe come far and wide to educate their children, but be wary about touching. Thai’s consider the head sacred and should never be touched, nor should you pass anything over somebody’s head. I’m guilty myself of passing things over people’s heads, mainly to avoid getting crumbs from a bag of nuts into somebody’s keyboard.
Canadian, eh? Well, speaking from personal experience, the Canadians are VERY proud of their country, as all of us should be. However, they do not like to be considered American. Many Canadians proudly display the maple leaf on a pin or button. And on flights from border cities, be cognoscente of that. Even a simple, “Bonjour” can go a long way…both English and French are widely spoken, especially in the older generations. (Reminds me of a time that a Captain was bilingual and flying from Buffalo to Miami and did his introductions in both English and French, to the amazement of the Canadians on board…needless to say, he was loudly applauded!)
Here in the United States, we tend to be very nosy about other people’s business, but in some countries, such as Brazil, it is considered rude to ask about one’s age or salary and even marriage. Let them volunteer information before asking for details.
Remember our flight to Saudi Arabia? Remember how difficult it was to maintain compliance? Arabs do not like to be told what to do and take offense to being bossed around. My dad always tells me to “watch my tone” and in some countries, my tone is what could set a bad example for all Americans. Like the French, who are overjoyed when somebody attempts to speak French, the Arabs appreciate being taken care of by people who have been educated about their ways, such as the taking of no alcohol and not mixing meat and dairy.
The aviation industry, although vastly spread out around the world, brings together every corner of the Earth. It is up to us, as ambassadors of both our airline, and our country, to make sure that we welcome each and every customer warmly, on an individual basis, and take into account their cultural needs. If you only fly domestic flights, take it upon yourself to learn just some basic customs of some of the people you come in contact with. Google a few pleasantries in several different languages to make foreigners feel welcome. Even a few “service related” words can make your job easier…write them down, laminate them, and put them on the back of your badge. Even if you can’t pronounce it, the customer will appreciate being able to point and get exactly what they would like. We work in a customer service industry. Let’s take the time to service our customers.