A Romanian colleague asked me today if it is acceptable to whistle in public in New Zealand. I was somewhat taken aback; I stopped whistling, and considered my answer carefully.
He claims that in Romania whistling is something that you do only when you are alone; shepherds whistle while watching their flocks, or one whistles when walking in the woods. And because one only whistles when alone, one can also whistle in order to convey the sense “I believe I am alone”. Up until now, I believe him. But the next bit stretches my credulity almost to breaking point: apparently one can deliberately insult someone by whistling in their presence. It means something like “I believe there is nobody (of consequence) here with me”.
Happily, we’ve come to an agreement: I will whistle when I feel like it, and he won’t feel insulted. Another case of successful intercultural diplomacy in our bustling multicultural workplace.