Did you know that what you might think is a perfectly innocent ‘breaking the ice’ question could be construed as rude in other parts of the world?
I’ll give you an example, “what do you do?’
In America this is a normal every day question like “how’s it going?” However, in Europe it might be thought of as rude or you are a nosey person.
Why is there a difference in these two areas of the world?
Firstly, Americans don't expect an elongated answer. Most of them don’t even care. You don't have to give a big description of what you do you just have to talk about what you job title is and even then you could stretch the truth a bit.
Europeans on the other hand seem to want to give that elongated answer, giving full details of their responsibilities and job description and the colleagues who annoy him or her on Monday mornings.
For some people the question “what do you do?” can be thought of as the asker trying to ascertain the other person’s social standing. The other person might think that they are being judged by their job title.
“I’m a CEO of a large multi-national conglomerate based in Zurich.”
“I clean the toilets at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.”
Are you going to judge the two people above by their occupation? I bet you do. I would and I’m sure you would too.
Some people don't want to be defined by their job title and so they will avoid the question or give a really confusing answer that probably asks more questions than it answers.
One of the first things I learnt when I moved to Japan was that even though the people I am talking to look like me and have similar names to me, culturally they are so much different. You just have to watch an American daytime talk show to see that.
Even though they speak the same language as you, they are not going to respond in the way that is familiar with you.
Don't be angry about it. Don't get frustrated about it. Just accept it for what it is. Another person reacting to something in a way their culture has taught them to be appropriate.
Also remember, that “what do you do?” is harmless and not everyone is trying to find out how much money is in your bank account, unlike this person below.
I’m sure that whoever met this person, the first question would have been “how are you?” and the second question would have been “what do you do?” There is absolutely no doubt about it.