MiR 063 Shorts – Unwritten Rules in American Culture

Welcome to episode # 063 of the Mark in Russia internet broadcast, and I’m Mark. You can check out all of my broadcasts on my website at: www.markinrussia.com.

Speaking of my website; there I have a little popup type window where I ask my listeners to suggest something that they would like me to talk about. While I can’t always accommodate you, as often as possible, I’ll try to.

A listener, who didn’t leave their name, suggested that I speak about unwritten rules of my country.  Well, although I’m currently living in Russia, and have been for more than a decade, I imagine that the listener is actually referring to America.

So, this is a pretty steep order to fill in one episode, so perhaps I’ll do a small mini-series on this. You know, it’s also sometimes difficult to think about these rules within your own culture, because these things are second nature, we don’t think about them.

Also remember, I’ll tell you some of the unwritten rules that I’ve always been acquainted with, but these might be different than other Americans.

But, I’ll give this a good try anyhow.

If you’ve never seen an American’s way of using their utensils when they eat, you might be surprised if you come from another part of the word. It seems very inefficient, but then again, if you see the average size of an American, you can see that it must work out well. What I’m specifically referring to here is how we cut our food. If a person is right-handed, meaning their right hand is the one that they write with then this is the hand where we hold our fork when eating. But, when we need to cut our food it’s done like so; we switch our fork to our left hand, pick up the knife with our right hand, hold what we are going to cut with the fork, which is now in our left hand, make our cut with the knife, which is now in our right hand, put the knife down, switch our fork to our right hand again and then pick up our food with the fork to eat.

Now, although to many people not from America, this seems confusing and not the most efficient way of doing this, but I guess that we are just really quick with this, and while you as a European are watching in amazement, we manage to pound down that last steak because you weren’t paying attention.

Going a little further, in terms of eating; it would not be considered polite to pick up something like a chicken leg with your hands and eat it, and I don’t just mean at a restaurant, but also at home. Most people cut the meat off of the bone with a knife and then eat the meat with a fork. If you eat it with your hands at an American’s home, you won’t look very cultured, actually a bit barbaric. The exception to this rule is when you are eating outdoors at a barbecue. Even fresh corn on the cob is often eaten using small handles which are stuck into each end of the cob to keep your hands off of the food.

OK, let’s take a quick joke break and I’ll meet you at the other side.

WHAT’S the difference between a mother-in-law and a vulture?
The vulture waits until you’re dead before it eats your heart out.

TWO cannibals were sitting down eating lunch.
One says to the other: “You know, I just can’t stand my mother-in-law.”
The other replies: “Just put her to the side and eat the mash.”

WHAT’S the punishment for bigamy? Two mothers-in-law.

“My mother-in-law fell down a wishing well, I was amazed, I never knew they worked.”

What a surprise. What are you doing back so soon?

Ok, I’d like to keep this episode down to about 5 minutes and continue with the topic another time.

Let’s move away from the food topic, after all, I’m not “Miss Manners”. Let’s talk about a little bit about unwritten rules in the workplace.

A big unwritten rule for most Americans is to never discuss how much money you make with anyone other than your boss and perhaps your wife. It’s considered very bad manners for someone to ask someone else how much money they make. There are exceptions to this. For example, for young people working an entry level job, they may discuss how much they make when they are among their friends. But, as they become an adult, it would not be normal to ever answer the question, “How much money do you make?”

I’ll explain the psychology behind this as I see things.  In my opinion asking or answering this question is “Lose Lose” for the following reasons: First of all, in many people’s view, their salary is also a bit of a value judgment on themselves. Therefore, if they feel that it is not enough, they don’t care to tell people what their value is, as expressed by their salary. If their salary is high, they don’t care to discuss it for fear of seeming to boast. As a person who had about 20 people working directly for me in the States, I also expressed my desire to my employees to keep their salary as their own business. Different employees make different amounts, as determined by factors such as their contributions. Knowing that your co-worker is making more money than you are never helps a person’s attitude. Whereas paying people the same amount in order to avoid hard feelings does nothing for employee motivation.

Well, I want to keep these segments short, so I’ll stop here and continue another time.

Thanks for listening to my broadcast and I hope that you’ll join me next time for the Mark in Russia Broadcast. Until that time, GoodBye!

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