Dare to Ask: A lack of transaction interaction?
By Phillip Milano
I've noticed Middle Eastern cashiers won't touch your hand when they give you
your change. They crease the bills, place the coins in the crease and hand you
your change. It seems like they do not like to touch me. What's going on?
Jim S., Wheeling, Ill.
Wow. Do you really want a cashier or a person you do not know touching your
hand? I could see if he or she were putting the money on the counter, but at
least it is placed in your hand. Sometimes what you think may be an ethnic thing
is a custom thing. You got your change, right?
Lyrick, 20, black female, Washington, D.C.
Well, if they're that afraid to touch my hand, perhaps they don't need to
touch my money, either, and I'll take my business elsewhere.
R.O., 46, black female, New York
I think it is simply because of all the germs they can come in contact with
every day. I really don't think anyone is trying to be rude, just more safe than
A.P., 25, white female, Madison, Wis.
These days we would gratefully, happily, desperately take our change any way
it's slung at us, including hidden inside white-hot coals or dipped in cyanide,
but, nonetheless, you ask, and we provide answers.
Tony Kutayli, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
in Washington, has fielded lots of questions about prejudice, cultural customs,
ethnic misinterpretations and things like that.
But not this one.
"That's the first time that's ever been posed to me," he said.
What if we presented it differently, like "Do Middle Easterners hate
everybody and can't stand touching them and want to smash them in the face and
everything and then laugh at them, and then as if that's not bad enough they go
to cool jobs as cashiers the next day and give out change to customers they
can't stand, probably the same ones they smashed in the face the day before, and
then insolently crease the bills and put the coins in the crease?"
Nope, still a puzzle.
If anything, Kutayli said, Sept. 11 may have made people in the U.S. more
observant of Middle Easterners, and so they may view everything they do through
a cultural prism when it's not necessary.
"In fact, when you look at Arab culture in particular, when it comes to
greetings and interaction, the amount of personal space is a lot less than is
what is common in American culture. . . . and being affectionate is a show of
However, in the States, in a public setting, the cashier may just be trying
to be "as professional as possible, as courteous as possible, so they may feel
it's easiest to hand the money with the coins in the middle."
"People tend to think Arabs are so horrible or have no affection, or we just
want to kill bunnies," Kutayli said. "But Arabs culturally are very generous,
open and caring, and, especially with strangers, always willing to help."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to email@example.com. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his