Joi Ito offers a mini-rant on adopting surface-level customs of another culture while ignoring the deeper values: "A lot of people ask me about Japanese customs. They learn the formal way to hand business cards, they bow deeply when they meet Japanese and they call me 'Ito-san.' Stop that. It's silly. To some Japanese, the awkward foreigners trying to please their hosts by acting Japanese may look cute, but more likely than not, you'll get a A for effort but you'll be forever the silly foreigner in their minds... Rather than trying to act Japanese, I suggest that people visiting Japan be sensitive and aware of the nuances in the interactions. It is more about timing, loudness, space and smiles than it is about how your hold your business card or calling people "Ito-san." When in doubt, shut up and listen. When smiled at, smile back. If you're freaking someone out, back off instead of continuing your interrogation. All of which I believe is not unique to being a foreigner in Japan."
The comments go long, crossing cultures, and I'll need to print them out to read them effectively (although I suspect some of them may be bots ;-). The discussion is not symmetrical, however: an American in Tokyo is different from a Japanese in Manhattan in this regard, because America doesn't have the vertical and horizontal distancing mechanisms found in Japan. I am gaijin, outsider, outside the group, and my face shows that I will always be so. In San Francisco it's much easier to erase the small in-group/out-group distinctions.
But there's also that angle of which habits to adopt... when to be yourself, and when to attempt to fit in. Maybe it's one of those "Seek first to understand, then to be understood" situations... study helps us learn more about what we're seeing, but that doesn't mean we have to try to put all our study on continuous display.
There's an advantage in being outside the group.