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Dinners Will Include Lessons in Global Etiquette

Eating is one of those things that comes naturally to most people, but doing it wrong could lead to some ticklish situations.

"If you're in India, for instance, and you say you don't want to eat something a host has prepared, it's incredibly rude to say so," said UI student Racheal Bland. "Saying no to anything in the culture is considered rude, so finding a more delicate way of declining will be taken better then just saying no."

To make sure more UI students are able to eat without offense, Bland is helping to organize a series of etiquette dinners for the spring semester that will introduce students to the dining mores of other cultures. The first dinner is this Sunday, Feb. 11, when diners will learn about the etiquette, culture, and history of India.

"In a global economy, most everyone will need to understand other cultures at some point in their careers," said Bland, a senior from Des Moines who's organizing the dinners with the help of UI International Programs and the marketing department in the Tippie College of Business. "We'll learn which hands you can use to eat with, how to greet other diners, how to tip, what kinds of gifts to give, and other rules that will keep you from making mistakes that offend other people."

The India program, catered by The India Café, will be followed by dinner programs centered on Russia on March 4, China on March 25, and North America on April 1. The dinners start at 6:30 p.m. in the International Commons of the International Programs office in Old Capitol Town Centre. Tickets are $10 and available in the International Programs office or in the Department of Marketing office, room S252 Pappajohn Business Building.

Each dinner will feature a speaker from the country being spotlighted, and each table will include a UI student from that country to explain the history and culture of their homelands.

"The meals and table settings will be as authentic as possible, and we'll also have art and decorations from the featured country," Bland said. "We're trying to be as accurate about each culture as we can."

Bland said that in international business, it would be easy to kill a deal by unknowingly shaking hands the wrong way or bringing up a taboo topic for discussion. For instance, in her own reading about India, Bland was surprised to learn that monetary gifts are given only in odd-numbered increments, and giving a gift that has to do with a dog is a significant faux pas because dogs are considered unclean in Indian culture.

"Obviously, we won't be able to explain everything about a culture in two hours, but we can walk them through it as a way to get started," Bland said.

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