There is a sutta AN or SN, I believe, I read months ago that discussed about a kingsman who wanted to give respect to the Buddha by bowing but couldn't because he would lose a good job, family, and reputation. He went to The Blessed One to pay respect but told him that, instead of bowing, when he rides on his horse and tips his hat, that is the sign that he is bowing to The Blessed One. He gives other like signs to hide the respect he wanted to give The Buddha by bowing. The Buddha's religious neighbors in town questioned The Buddha and were particular about the Blessed One's teachings and practice, and, thus, opposed anyone who followed The Buddha would be opposing the religious teachings of the land.
The Buddha didn't complain. Like other suttas, there is a lot of repetition, but the main message is it doesn't matter how you do X action it's your intentions that count.
I ask because in western culture bowing in respect to others isn't common. Shaking hands or eye to eye contact takes precedent. We may nod our heads when acknowledging a person equally (say walking pass each other) but not insofar out of hierarchy (spiritual, political, etc). To many it can be seen as an act of submission; but, in general, people usually "bow" to people closer to them than they would strangers.
With that in mind, this sutta I can't find really caught my attention about The Buddha looking at intentions rather than requiring the practice of his teachings be congruent with the cultural norms in his day.
-Specifically, I am looking for that particular sutta or one very close to it. Any of you familiar with this story?