Sometimes, you just don’t learn about the cultural differences of a place till something awkward happens. Or, you don’t realize it’s awkward… until you learn about the “rule”.
Example: I learned, just last week, that Estonians do not compliment each other unless good friends (not even acquaintances compliment each other). Of course now that I’ve learned that, I’ve been thinking about all of the conversations I’ve ever had with an Estonian (um, I’m a teacher to Estonians–this thinking process has taken me awhile). I don’t remember complimenting any Estonians unless I consider them good friends (like at church or something). But I talk a lot. So who knows? I might have complimented an Estonian and completely freaked her out!
I’ve asked my students what their reaction would be if they did get complimented in a strange situation (trying to assess the type of damage I may have caused), and all they’ve told me is that it’s weird and that they don’t understand why someone would compliment them. I guess they’re just confused and don’t understand what the person doing the complimenting wants.
So. Well. In America (or at least the America I know), it’s normal for girls to compliment each other, even when they’ve just barely met. Is that right, American friends? Or am I super weird for complimenting a girl’s cute shoes or something when I don’t really know her?
I need to know–is it ok for a girl to compliment another girl (just casually, like about her clothes or something normal) when you aren’t good friends or have I been breaking some rule that I didn’t know exists?
It’s clear to me that I shouldn’t EVER compliment girls who I don’t know well here. Now I just need to know if I should give up on compliments while in the US, too.
UPDATED: I have learned a few things through this post–1) Posts with dramatic titles will bring people to my blog. I don’t know if that means that I should continue with such sensationalism when posting or not. Probably not. My life isn’t that crazy to make every title so exciting. 2) Russian-Estonians do compliment each other like normal. So it is just Estonian speakers who are uncomfortable with it. 3) Americans (thank goodness) do compliment complete strangers!
I can now rest easy and spend the last bit of my time here complimenting the heck out of my Russian speaking students while terrifying my Estonian speaking students by introducing them to my habit of complimenting. Very good news.