The Olive Way E-Newsletter
Ways to Handle Privacy
Almost from day one of our English language class, our teacher introduced to us the concept of privacy. We were told: never ask a foreigner how much money he/she makes; never ask a woman her age; and stick to a safe topic such as the weather.
We remembered the taboos, but that did not stop our curious minds from wondering. Coupled with an enthusiasm to practice his English language in a rare authentic situation, a boy in our class once asked, innocently, an old American lady (a 40-year-old could look ancient to a teenager) the unaskable:” How old are you? Are you married? What do you do? How much money do you make?” That was enough to put the smile on her face to a sudden stop.
Poor boy, as a beginner of English like the rest of us, he only had limited vocabulary, and it took quite some practice to get all that out and understood! He probably deserved praise for his eagerness to learn. Instead he found himself an instant target of our blame. “The teacher said you shouldn’t ask her how old she was.” “See, she was angry at your questions.” … We started one after another in Chinese, and that upset the lady even more, as she suspected that we were talking bad things about her.
Years later, I had the privilege to entertain customers from different parts of Asia. That kind of interest in what is considered personal in Western countries was ever prevalent, but only the questions from adults sometimes were less direct.
I recall, when first hosting our Korean customers, they asked whether I was a summer student (not sure whether looking young is a blessing or a curse in my case, but that was their way of asking how old I was!). On hearing no, they persisted with a series of other questions: Is this your first job? Did you go to school very early? When did you graduate? How old are your parents? ... I did a good job satisfying their curiosity without compromising my privacy, although, in the end, the summer student must have aged considerably in their imagination!
When interacting with people from a different cultural background, you may run into similar situations. In certain cultures, it is not a big problem to ask people their age, marital status or the amount of money they make. Don’t be shocked, look angry or lose your composure. Be prepared. Think how you can handle the issue diplomatically so that you don’t risk a good relationship. If, in the end, you “fall into the trap” and “lose your guard”, how bad could it be compared to the following?
At a hospital or a clinic, you hand over your health card to the person behind the registration desk. With the place full of people, she/he asks loudly as if no one else is around: “Your name is …? Your birthday is on …? What’s your mother’s maiden name? Is your home phone …? Is your cell phone …? Your work number is …? Your home address is …? And the postal code is ...?”
Yes, yes, and yes…! As you obediently and truthfully answer these questions, have you thought about your privacy? Ever heard of those going through garbage bins to dig that kind of personal information? Well, someone may have just found another target for identity theft in the comfort of an office!
Why not have your personal information ready on a piece of paper? Next time you are at a doctor’s office, hand it over with your health card. That would shut up those annoying questions completely. Don’t complain or wait till other people get trained to protect you (some may never even be trainable), help others to help you!
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