A peccadillo is a “petty, little offense or sin.” And as you can imagine, a peccadillo in one culture may carry no overtones or negative connotations in another. For example, sitting in such a way that you expose the bottom of your feet to someone is considered an insult in Thailand and certainly something that fits the definition of a peccadillo. Unfortunately, the reality is that an innocent peccadillo could land you in jail as we just saw in the case of Dorje Gurung who went to prison in Qatar for using the word “terrorist” while talking to taunting 12-year-old students at Qatar Academy.
International Educators aren’t the only ones who accidentally commit peccadilloes. President George H. Bush, caused himself a hugh problem in 1992. While driving past a group of farmers demonstrating against US farm subsidies in Canberra, Australia, he thought he was giving them the peace sign when he was actually telling these farmers to ‘f#@k off.’ After being told about his peccadillo, the President apologized. Even a simple ‘thumbs up’ can get you trouble in some cultures. Most everyone recognizes the ‘thumbs up’ gesture as a sign for good or A-OK. But in the Middle East, a ‘thumbs up’ has the same meaning as the American middle finger thrust upwards gesture.
As International Educators, we obviously don’t enjoy the same support and security as American politicians who travel accompanied by the full protection of the US government. No, as international educators we are dependent on our schools to stand up for us should we inadvertently cause a few bruised feelings. The ISR web site is dotted with Reviews, Blog and Forum posts in which teachers describe how they unknowingly offended a rich parent, or disciplined a student and found themselves detained and/or jailed. Sadly, in most cases their schools abandoned them.
A recent post to the ISR Forum tells of a teacher’s experience in the Philippines in which his school called immigration and had him arrested for reporting the inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a 15-year-old female student to authorities. The school called it “libel” because the report brought unfavorable attention to the school. “In hindsight, it was a pretty cool adventure. At the time, I thought I was dead. We had a 6′ x 8′ cell for six of us. They gave me the bed (a raised bamboo platform) because they felt sorry for me. The other prisoners were incredibly kind. After I got out, I visited all of their families with messages and big bags of rice because I owed them so much for being so good to me.”
ISR can help you know if a school stands up for its teachers or simply throws them under the bus during a peccadillo crisis. Additionally, you’ll want to learn all you can about a school’s location and its culture before you arrive. Imagine landing in Kuwait and upon being cleared at immigration you give the agent a big ‘thumbs’ up…Now that’s a peccadillo!!
To read & share first-hand information on living in Asia, Africa. the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, ISR invites you to visit our What’s It Really Like to Live Here Blog/series. Remember: a peccadillo shared means a colleague may be spared.
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