Road Reads

Sunday, August 5, 2007

BOOK: Culture Smart! guides (Graphic Arts Books, $9.95 each)

TARGET AUDIENCE: The vast, unofficial international diplomatic corps.

Some 49 titles strong, the country-by-country Culture Smart! series is now available in America, having launched in the United Kingdom in 2003. Not guidebooks in the usual sense, they won't tell you how to bypass the lines at the Uffizi, or send you to the best noodle joint in Shanghai. They focus instead on culture and etiquette, and on avoiding awkward situations. For instance, should you become impatient in China, try not to show it. (It's considered a serious character flaw.) You sent chrysanthemums to a sick Italian friend? Doh! They're funeral flowers. And never go into a French person's kitchen uninvited.

There are matters for business travelers, such as thinking up a good Chinese version of your American name for your business cards, or dealing with the Turkish disinclination to deliver bad news. And there are revelations about how they view us: our inclination to get down to business quickly, the reflexive use of "have a nice day." Some entries would be interesting even if you never went to the country in question. Did you know that in Italy, a cat's sneeze means good luck? That Chinese ages are calculated from conception, not birth? That a prospective Turkish bride rejects a suitor by putting salt in his coffee?

--Jerry V. Haines

© 2007 The Washington Post Company