Avoiding cross-cultural faux pas

Some time ago, I stumbled upon a warning never to write a living Korean person’s name in red ink, as it is customarily reserved to write a deceased person’s name (with the exception of a dojang.) Further research hinted that this may also be the case in other Asian cultures.

Being an anxious person in general, I was deeply horrified by the possibility that in the past, I may have written to a Korean Postcrosser using a red pen, in an attempt to add visual interest with an ink color other than basic black!

After that wake-up call to cultural sensitivity, I became preoccupied with avoiding unintentional social blunders with my ink color, message, and choice of postcard and decorations. Even if it is by accident, the last thing I want to do is upset a fellow Postcrosser while trying to be friendly. :cold_sweat:

There are many online articles about international communication etiquette, but they almost exclusively relate to business interactions. So I want to ask you, Postcrossing community: What should I not write (or stamp, or tape, or stick) on a postcard to your country?

Of course, everyone’s adherence to rules of etiquette varies individually, and in a large country with distinct regional subcultures (my own country, for example), there are bound to be differing opinions about what is considered taboo or not! With that in mind, let’s discuss!

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There’s not much you may do “wrong” when writing to a German postcrosser. Only the standard rules like don’t write badly about religion to a religious postcrosser etc. But that’s nothing country specific.

In general (certain people might be offended, but it’s not a problem in general to send without envelope)
Nudes? No problem!
Religious jokes / cartoons? No problem!
LGBTQ+? No problem!
You should avoid nazi symbols though :see_no_evil: I would never send a card (even historic photograph of a plane for example showing one of the symbols) without envelope.

And many Germans are quite tired of most of the stereotypes (because they’re mostly Bavarian stereotypes :sweat_smile:). There are huge cultural differences between South and North Germany, East and West!

Go for all the colours, decorations you wish etc

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For me there isn’t really any specific cultural reasons to not or to write anything specific. Just the normal be nice and don’t use the rude language.

In my experience, people are usually quite understanding and do not expect people from other cultures to perfectly to adapt for theirs (especially when it is about international communication. Living in other country is another thing). It is like there is own set of rules when it is about international communication, then you don’t really follow the same things you would when speaking with somebody sharing your culture. I would never address a letter to another Finn with “dear…” and would be highly confused if I got one like that from a Finn (or Swede, to say), but receiving letter starting with “dear…” from anybody from anywhere else would feel totally normal. Although these small cultural differences and things are quite interesting to hear about!

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Even as a native English speaker, I find it weird that we start letters with Dear, even for business. Even if you are writing an angry letter.

You can say To, but it’s uncommon.

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I have questions for you and other German Postcrossers! :raising_hand_woman:

  1. Everything I read about German etiquette (written from an American perspective) suggests that formality is a necessity, so I tend to address the recipient as “Mr./Ms. ____.” However, I suspect that this rule applies more to a business setting, and less so to sending a casual postcard; is this correct? In my experience with German people–regardless of region–you are wonderfully polite and respectful, and also very warm and friendly, and thus would not be bothered by my omitting a prefix. Would you say this is generally accurate?
  1. Oof, I’m glad you brought this up. I hope this has never happened outside of the example that you mentioned of historical images. :nauseated_face: I do have US stamps commemorating the anniversary of the end of World War I, and–whether or not my anxiety is justified–I avoid sending them to countries previously affiliated with the Central Powers, unless the recipient were to ask specifically for them. Again, I would like to know if you think that I am overly sensitive! :joy: Inversely, though, I would not be upset at all to receive a stamp commemorating an event in which the US was considered an antagonist, so maybe I am overreacting once again.
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That reminded me about all the angry “Dear…” letters I have got. Always liked that passive-aggressive note it gives to it.

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Well, even in business situations most Germans adapted to the American way and using the first name (when writing / meeting with other Western cultures). Sometimes it comes to strange situations in more traditional companies (calling each other with first name while talking to English speaking guest, but with the last name among the Germans). But it’s getting less common. But I’m so used to the last name on first contact I often write “Dear Ms / Mr X”. But well, I prefer the informal way (regardless of private / business contact).

Younger people will mostly stick to the first name in most situations. Personally I address every postcrosser with the first name.

For your other question: I don’t think you’re overly sensitive.

edit: well… for the warm and friendly… that’s one of the huge differences between South and North :sweat_smile: People from northern Germany are more reserved (but it’s not meant to be rude in any way), they need a bit longer to open up.

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OH, NOOO. :joy: That is…terrible, but I admit I am laughing at the thought. In fact, a “Dear John letter” is a term describing a note that someone leaves for their romantic partner to inform him or her that the relationship is over. Passive-aggressive for sure, but an easy escape! :sweat_smile:

@helent, I admit that I take it a step further and go right for “Dearest.” :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: When writing an angry message, I get right to the point and begin with the recipient’s name, followed by a comma. NO “DEAR” FOR YOU! :rofl:

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Thank you so much for the clarification! I will keep it in mind; it is much appreciated.

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We had “Nie wieder Krieg” (“Never again war”) stamps in 2017 or 2018 as well, so I don’t think anyone here would be offended by these stamps. But that’s my opinion and I belong to a different generation than some other Postcrossers. For me, there would be no need to put so much thought into this. After all, we’re happy these times are over as well!

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I’m always amused in German supermarkets, where the teenage staff have Fraulein/Herr + Last Name on their name tags - it’s a good reminder that I am in a different place.

(My brother married a German woman (they’re divorced now). The number of times my family’s very casual Australian ways offended her parents is hard to count.)

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hopefully not :scream: It’s so outdated, old fashioned and sexist…

edit: I googled it a bit, because I don’t know the time when it was common to use (I was born in the 80s)… so I was curious since when it should not be used when addressing… it was only commonly used until the 1980s.

Sometimes it is still used for young teenage girls who look more grown up than their age, but it’s not common. And sometimes it is still used for waitresses, but it’s still offending. So never call a German grown up woman Fräulein :smiley:

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My memory may be faulty, maybe it was Frau? I’m taking us off topic, so I won’t speculate further.

No, no–I am interested in @Cassiopheia’s thoughts on this, too! Would you kindly elaborate?

Yes, probably. It’s not off topic though
Writing Fräulein XY could offend a modern German woman :blush: And it’s a lot more outdated than the English pendant Miss. (And I wouldn’t even ever write Miss, I always go for Ms in formal writing).

But well, all international customers are called by first name in the company I’m working for, but last name for our German ones (unless agreed otherwise), first name for all colleagues and bosses.

I will introduce myself with my first name in any private contact. I’m not a fan of overly formal situations though.

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Me too! I usually have some WWII themed stamps on hand and I wouldn’t put them on cards to German and Japan. No stamps about the return of Hong Kong on cards to Hong Kong as well. Just in case.

This also applies in China. I remember receiving a mail from my penpal and my mum asked me why she wrote my name in red. :joy:

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Good to know! As a former fan of using red pens, I promise, I meant no harm! :joy:

I’m just relieved that I learned this before I caused further dismay throughout the Asian Postcrossing community… :grimacing:

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I’m a bit confused about pears. The rate for international postcards to China Hong Kong and Taiwan is $1.20 and I like to use Forever stamps. Two Forever stamps currently rated at $0.55 cents USD and one $0.10 cents USD stamps which have pears. I Googled pears in Chinese culture and something came up that pears are a sign of departing or saying goodbye. So I just use two grape $0.05 cents USD stamps, that have grapes, which represent wealth and abundance. I use Chinese New Year issue and even Googled tiger in Chinese culture which is considered a lucky animal and well admired in China, plus the Year of the Tiger. And so I use the First Class semi postal stamps with the tiger.

I don’t send postcards of the Unconditional Surrender statue in San Diego to any German, Italian, or Japanese. I instead send a lot of those to Russia.

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I had to google what that statue is about. (By the way, the statue was once in Italy)

In 2012, a monumental statue of Unconditional Surrender could be seen in Civitavecchia Marina.

As I am in a generation, who had never witnessed a war ifself, it don’t would upset me to get stamps or postcatds featured victory or end of a war. (As long this war was in the past like fifty years or something)

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Wow you are super thoughtful! I mean I didn’t even get why you are cautious about pears in the beginning. :sweat_smile: It’s true that pears and departure are homophones and because of that, pears are seldom given out as gifts but we don’t just stop consuming pears. You are mostly safe with pears regarding stamp choices. Pear stamps are pretty cute anyway. :relaxed:

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