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Saudi translator seeks apology for embassy incident

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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:47
Member
English to French
Translators bridging cultures... Aug 2, 2010

Ahem.
No need to live in a rigorist Islamic state to know that handshakes can be dodgy. For instance, I don't shake hands to women wearing veils unless they offer it first.
On the other hand (so to speak), the translator should have known that in western cultures, not shaking the hand offered can be felt as an serious offense...


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 12:47
Member (2008)
French to English
In which culture? Aug 2, 2010

Philippe Etienne wrote:

... in western cultures...


Except she was in Riyadh.

When in Rome (or Riyadh)....


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:47
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
If what she says is true... Aug 2, 2010

The translator says:

I did not shake hands because, as a common Islamic orthodox practice, Muslim women do not shake hands with non-chaperones. Instead, I placed my hand over my heart and nodded. 'However, he deliberately penetrated my personal space and insisted on my shaking his hand. I could not bring my hand down as he was too close. 'It was my intention to explain the etiquette saying, "I am a Muslim lady and..." but he interrupted me disrespectfully and screamed, "And I am Christian. Shake my hand!"

If this account is true, then he was rude to her, regardless of culture. The fact is that if someone doesn't want to shake hands, but does nod politely and smile, then that should be sufficient, even if you come from a culture (like the man here) that believes that "Where the bloody hell are you" is a good tourist slogan.

Regardless of whether the translator's version of the events is accurate, the ambassador has to make amends. His religion requires it.


 

Mohamed Mehenoun  Identity Verified
Algeria
Local time: 18:47
Member (2008)
English to French
+ ...
She is right ! Aug 2, 2010

He was in Saudi Arabia he had to respect her culture ! You don't expect people to apply your culture in their homeland !

Philippe Etienne wrote:

... in western cultures...


Even if it was true, I don't see why she should do it his way and wipe out her beliefs in her own country. Serious offense or not, I don't see why she should indulge him while he should show the courtesy of respecting the country where he is...

I believe that when you go to a foreign country YOU have to respect the local culture (especially if you are an ambassador) and that's what I always do in all my trips to foreign countries. I do believe that it's common sense or else just stay at home...

Plus "And I am Christian. Shake my hand!" is plain stupid who cares what or who you are ! She believes in what she believes... Some people are just jerks !

[Edited at 2010-08-02 22:14 GMT]


 

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 00:47
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Translators bridging cultures... Aug 3, 2010

Philippe Etienne wrote:
No need to live in a rigorist Islamic state to know that handshakes can be dodgy. For instance, I don't shake hands to women wearing veils unless they offer it first.
On the other hand (so to speak), the translator should have known that in western cultures, not shaking the hand offered can be felt as an serious offense...


I live in Thailand where translators are ignored by the government who lacks understanding of roles of translators. We have a number of troubles due to cultural gap of Thailand and Western countries e.g. commercial disputes, bribes on public purchase, failure to suit dishonest politicians. When we come to translating documents for legal procedures, translators are said to be unreliable since the government does not know how to translate cultural issues e.g. priority of local or foreign words.

Regards,

Soonthon L.


 

Charlie Bavington (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
French to English
In which culture? Aug 3, 2010

John Fossey wrote:

Philippe Etienne wrote:

... in western cultures...


Except she was in Riyadh.

When in Rome (or Riyadh)....

Unless she was in the Australian emabassy, in which case she was technically in Australia.
Neither side exactly covers themselves in glory, though.


 

Bogdan Burghelea  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 19:47
English to German
+ ...
In which culture? Aug 3, 2010

Charlie Bavington wrote:

John Fossey wrote:

Philippe Etienne wrote:

... in western cultures...


Except she was in Riyadh.

When in Rome (or Riyadh)....

Unless she was in the Australian emabassy, in which case she was technically in Australia.
Neither side exactly covers themselves in glory, though.


Well, as far as I know, even in Western cultures it is very rude for a man to shake the hand of a lady (or any human being, for that matter), if she hasn't given the slightest sign she wants it.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:47
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Jerks Aug 3, 2010

Mohamed Mehenoun wrote:
Plus "And I am Christian. Shake my hand!" is plain stupid who cares what or who you are !


Actually, this was the ambassador's argument as well: "who cares what or who you are?". Are you saying that you agree with his sentiments?


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:47
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Shaking hands with a non-equal in Western cultures Aug 3, 2010

Bogdan Burghelea wrote:
Well, as far as I know, even in Western cultures it is very rude for a man to shake the hand of a lady (or any human being, for that matter), if she hasn't given the slightest sign she wants it.


In the old days (according to the ideas of the time), a woman rarely shook hands with a man she did not know personally: http://www.bartleby.com/95/3.html . However, this applies to equals in class. if I understand correctly, the situation is different when the person initiating the hand shake is from a higher class, and the ambassador would (historically speaking) qualify for that, which means that if he offers a hand, it would be a grave insult to refuse it.

By the way, I found an interesting site on business etiquette:
http://www.executiveplanet.com/index.php?title=Main_Page


 

Charlie Bavington (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
French to English
In which culture? Aug 3, 2010

Bogdan Burghelea wrote:

Well, as far as I know, even in Western cultures it is very rude for a man to shake the hand of a lady (or any human being, for that matter), if she hasn't given the slightest sign she wants it.

It doesn't do to generalise about "Western cultures". Australia is not the UK or the USA or Denmark or France or indeed S. Africa or anywhere else. Without wishing to fall into the generalisation trap, I think it is fair to say it is a less hidebound place, less constricted by certain conventions that may apply elsewhere.
In essence, I think at face-value the ambassador has been insensitive, and the interpreter over-sensitive. He may need some cultural awareness training (or more likely, restricted access to the drinks cabinet); she should have done her homework on the cultural background of the people she would be working with.

There is more to this than meets the eye, anyway, of that I am sure. Why are we finding out now, about 6 weeks after Kevin Rudd was last in the PM role?


 

Mary Stefan  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:47
Member (2006)
Romanian to English
+ ...
Kindly explain Aug 3, 2010

Samuel,

Samuel Murray wrote:
Regardless of whether the translator's version of the events is accurate, the ambassador has to make amends. His religion requires it.


What does religion have to do with the ambassador's amends?

Mary


 

Mohamed Mehenoun  Identity Verified
Algeria
Local time: 18:47
Member (2008)
English to French
+ ...
Jerks Aug 3, 2010

Samuel Murray wrote:

Mohamed Mehenoun wrote:
Plus "And I am Christian. Shake my hand!" is plain stupid who cares what or who you are !


Actually, this was the ambassador's argument as well: "who cares what or who you are?". Are you saying that you agree with his sentiments?


What I'm saying is that there is no switch to what one believes; she won't turn off the "muslim" in her because he is an ambassador which I thought was clear from what I quote "I am christian shake my hand"...

As for being on Australian soil I don't believe that she has to shake his hand to do her job, so it's up to her...Next time she'll have to drink a cup of whisky for the sake for her employer ?!


 

Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:47
German to English
+ ...
What an unnecessary incident Aug 3, 2010

For the past several years, I have read out the names of graduates at the graduation ceremony at a local university - they were looking for someone who could handle the plethora of "foreign-sounding" names. Some years we have quite a few veiled Muslim women who prefer the hand-over-heart & nod gesture over shaking hands with the dean, while other students shake hands, high five, fist bump, etc. The dean just goes with the flow. No reason the ambassador couldn't do the same, particularly considering his role. I agree that, if true as described, this was simply rude behavior.

 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:47
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Mary and Mohamed Aug 3, 2010

Mary Stefan wrote:
Samuel Murray wrote:
Regardless of whether the translator's version of the events is accurate, the ambassador has to make amends. His religion requires it.

What does religion have to do with the ambassador's amends?


1. At first read it seemed to me that the ambassador had used his religion as a reason for doing something or a reason for expecting a certain behaviour. If the ambassador is so keen to use his religion as an excuse for acting in a certain way towards this girl, then he should (unless he is a hypocrite) follow through by making amends.

[To explain the logic: The christian religion is generally straight-forward but there are some twists in it. One of these twists is that if person A is angry at person B or if person A had sinned against person B, then the onus is not on person A to make amends, but on person B, who must seek amends to the point of bending over backwards for the sake of peace.]

Religion doesn't have anything to do with amends, unless the parties involved involve religions themselves, which is what at first appeared to me to have happened here.

2. However, after I've mulled over the episode a bit, I came to the conclusion that when the ambassador said "I'm a christian" he probably didn't mean that his expectation is based on the fact that he is a christian -- in fact, his retort was probably just a sarcastic reply to indicate to the lady that he regarded her excuse (i.e. that she is a Muslim) as invalid.

Mohamed Mehenoun wrote:
As for being on Australian soil I don't believe that she has to shake his hand to do her job, so it's up to her...


3. The question is: who is at fault here? I am aware that diplomats and ambassadors are quite strict on protocol, and if one works at an embassy, then protocol would be quite important. If the translator had breached protocol, regardless of her religious beliefs, and regardless of how reasonable the ambassador's demands were, then she is at fault. If she has religious beliefs that go against the protocol required by her job, then she has to decide which is more important to her -- her job or her god.

I'm all in favour of women standing up for their rights, or for people of different religions demanding respect and tolerance, but sometimes one has to make an unpleasant decision about what to do with your life, if society hasn't caught up with your preferences yet.



[Edited at 2010-08-03 15:01 GMT]


 

Sawal  Identity Verified
Senegal
Local time: 17:47
English to French
And it not only muslims... Aug 3, 2010

Orthodox jews don't shake hands either with the opposite gender. As well as some buddhists....

More than religion it's a matter of personal space. Not everyone want to have physical contact with a stranger.

What would someone say if he/she was forced to a kiss (on the cheek of course) ?


 
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Saudi translator seeks apology for embassy incident

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