Keep on blowing

January 7, 2005

Humphrey Evans' concessions to the sensibilities of overseas students overlook the need for foreigners to learn about the norms of societies they visit ("Runny nose?", December 17).

By not blowing his nose or crossing his legs in front of foreign students, he is denying them opportunities to learn about living in a foreign culture. Since we expect foreign students to become acquainted with the norms of British academic culture, we might equally expect them to learn that what may be offensive to foreigners may be normal in the host community.

Consider an opposite example: spitting out chewed betel leaves in public is acceptable in parts of India. Knowing this, I would not expect my Indian host to refrain from this habit on my account, though privately I might regard the habit as offensive.

We should warn new arrivals that they may find certain social behaviour offensive, though for us it is normal. If lecturers shield them from behaviour that is acceptable and that they will encounter elsewhere, these students might fail to perceive the normality of these "offensive" habits and misinterpret them when they encounter them.

Paul Kusel

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