Words to the Wise
Among people from Hispanic backgrounds, it is good manners for friends to embrace and simultaneously pat each other on the back. This is called the abrazo.
Don't Go There
A doctor was upset when his patient, an Orthodox Jew, bled profusely and then died. The doctor was shocked, however, when the patient's in-laws demanded his blood-covered medical scrubs. When buried, Orthodox Jews must have everything containing their bodily fluids interred with the body. This includes bandages, fluids from tubes, and any and all amputated limbs.
It's All Relative
In a number of eastern countries, it's perfectly acceptable to eat dog. In recognition of the American taboo against eating Fido or his canine companions, during the 1988 Olympics, Korean restaurants in Seoul removed dog entrees from their menus.
Every culture has its traditions about the evil eye. In Yiddish, some people utter the magical phrase kine-ahora to ward off the evil eye.
Don't Go There
Every culture has its traditions governing food and how it should be served. Many Asians and Saudi Arabians make eating noises to show their appreciation of the food; people from Arabic countries, parts of Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines often eat with their fingers from a common platter. So it's not enough to check what you're serving; you also have to check how you're serving it.
Here are some areas to watch if your in-laws are from a culture different from yours:
Groove to the beat: Body language
Let me hear your body talk? Please, keep it to a whisper when you're dealing with in-laws from another culture. Among Chinese people from Vietnam, for example, a man and a woman are discouraged from hugging or kissing if they are not married.
Likewise, Orthodox Jews avoid contact with members of the opposite sex. Many Latinos, in contrast, expect body contact. The moral of the story? Always ask before you reach out and touch someone.
Flying from the nest: Childrearing practices
Your foreign-born in-laws might regard American attitudes toward a child's independence and responsibility as stingy and unloving. In Colombia, for example, relatives help each other with no questions asked and no strings attached. This is rarely the case in American today.
A big difference between Europeans and Americans is the independence issue. Many acculturated Americans are out the door at 18, but it's not uncommon for people from the Old Side to live at home well into their twenties. In America, living at home is looked upon as, well, freakish. This is especially true for men -- "What are you, a momma's boy?" In Europe, it's more common for the kids to remain in the nest until they're married.
My friend Toni's future in-laws went nuts when Vito, their baby boy, their only son and the light of their lives, moved out. But when he moved in with Toni, they threatened coronaries on a daily basis. At first, every time Vito's parents called, they were astonished that Toni answered the phone. So what if it was her phone? Invariably, they asked what Toni was doing there. Of course, they eventually got used to the situation and even ended up going furniture shopping with the couple.