by John Suler, Ph.D.

The beauty of e-mail is that you have the opportunity to contact people from around the world. The challenge, however, is that people from around the world have different customs for conversing and developing relationships.

At least some of the ideas discussed in this article may be culture-bound, applying mostly to Western, European, or specifically American people (which I am).

A good rule of thumb in conversing with folks from other lands is to be appropriately polite, friendly, and as clear as possible in what you write. Stretch your e-mail empathy muscles.

Unless you're very sure of your relationship with the person, avoid colloquialisms, slang, humor, innuendoes, and especially subtle attempts at cynicism and sarcasm (which is difficult to convey even under the best of circumstances). It's much safer to start off polite and later loosen up as the relationship settles in than it is to inadvertently commit a faux pas, find out that you indeed committed a faux pas, and then try to patch up the damage.

Despite the cultural differences, the delight of doing international e-mail is discovering that there *is* a universal e-mail language. You'll feel a warm tingle of camaraderie when someone from a foreign land sends you a :-)


John Suler, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at Rider University and a practicing clinical psychologist. He has published on psychotherapy, mental imagery, and eastern philosophy. He currently maintains several web sites.


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