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No right or wrong way with cultures

Dear Annie: I used to date a lady from Australia who was taught to hold her fork in the European/continental style. When she came to visit me in Milwaukee, she noticed my American style. She seemed put-off but didn’t say anything. We had a dinner date with mutual friends, and she thought I would be set straight by seeing how other people hold their forks.

When we gathered together, she was surprised that, “You all eat that way!” We both learned about differences.

She also was intrigued by my frequent use of wiping my mouth with a napkin. “Australians use it once, at the end of eating.” I always saw it as a personal preference. After a while, she confided that she liked my way better. Seems Aussies she knew wiped with sleeves throughout their meals.

Customs and habits can be born by tradition or by physical necessity. There is no right way or wrong way. Different cultures can have diametrically opposed standards or mores, habits and customs. It’s all in perspective. — I Learned From an Aussie

Dear Learned From an Aussie: I love your open-minded perspective on traditions and culture. Learning about others makes life so much richer and deeper. A large percentage of people in the world don’t use knives and forks at all. Some use chopsticks while others eat with their hands.

Dear Annie: I would like to bring to your attention another possible situation to the person who wrote to you about the new co-worker who accused another employee of sexual harassment. Your response to leave it up to the human resources department was correct.

But let’s imagine that the employee’s complaint was made up, and it was a cover for a poor work performance. If HR wishes to terminate the employee, they might face a retaliation lawsuit from the newer employee because she filed the original complaint. The HR department must tread carefully because terminating this employee will have to be based upon documented poor performance and written warnings, or an untruth on her application or some other issue specific to the business.

While HR is documenting the problems, it will appear to the original employees that they are doing nothing because they cannot legally discuss personnel problems. If this employee has filed similar complaints with previous employers, the current HR might not be able to document it because of nondisclosure agreements.

Problem employees often create circular legal issues. I know this from experience. I have worked in human resources for 25 years, have a master’s degree in HR management, and I am certified as a Senior Professional in HR. — HR Department

Dear HR Department: I always love hearing from professionals. Your letter gives everyone a sneak peek of what is going on behind the scenes in HR.

(Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com. This column is syndicated by Creators Syndicate columnists. Visit the website at www.creators.com.)

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