Culture and Nonverbal Communication
Words are only one part of communication. Sometimes we communicate with more than words. In order to make successful exchange in intercultural communication, we should know more nonverbal communication, especially the correct body language in foreign countries. And we should admit that nonverbal communication is similar to verbal communication for the importance of communicating with foreigners.
Nonverbal communication contents intonation and body language. And body language in terms of hand gesture, eye language, and facial expressions and so on.1.Intonation
Cultural differences are present in intonation and stress. In intercultural communication, misunderstanding in intonation may have a bad consequence as misunderstanding the meaning of the words. For an instance in some countries like Japan and Span a word can really have different meaning between rising intonation and falling intonation.
Our voice, not just intonation, can give away our emotions and thinking. For example: when someone gets enraged, she/he raises his voice before her/him pacing the action.
Body language is the movements or positions of our body that show other people what we are thinking or feeling. However, body language from different cultures has many differences because of different regions, races and cultural customs. And it is restricted by its culture and has different cultural connotation. That is to say, the same
body language has different meanings in different cultures and has different social functions.
“Some people cannot talk without using their hands. They reach out as they explain, almost shaping the words, emphasizing and exaggerating and punctuating with their hands. Other people hardly use their hands when they talk.” When we saw these sentences, two kinds of people may come into our mind. American people can completely represent the first one. The second one must be English people. When you talk with an American almost any type of hand movement you can see maybe because Americans are open and enthusiasm. But an English man seems more controlled and rigid in their behavior for English people are serious and not full of passion.
As we know hand movements appear open and free and can draw attentions in the talking. However, some hand gestures can be very difference in different countries.
Thumb life: In some west countries this gesture means I want to take your car. In Chinese we call it “da bian che”. But in Greek it is an insulting gesture.
Crook a finger: In American this gesture is use to call a person. However in Yugoslavia it is doing to trick animals. Even in Australia and Indonesia, it is use to call a whore.
The ring gesture: In American it means OK or great. In Japan it represents money. In France it means zero or worthless. It also means “I will kill you” in Tunisia.
When we communicate with foreign people, we should carefully consider about hand gestures in order to avoid misunderstandings and culture shock.
For a politician hand gestures are important. It can play a big part both positive and negative way. For an instant, a good politician matches his hand movements to the image he wishes to project. Opposite it, in Lewinsky scandal Bill’s hand gesture betrayed him. The professionals point out that his eyes don’t coincide with the figure point. And sometimes these means he is lying.
As saying goes “The eyes are the window of the soul”. That is to say, we can read one’s mind through his/her eyes.
According to American tradition, communicators must gaze at each other. Americans pay great attention to the time and the way of eye contact. In common conversation, they will look at each other about one minute and then they will look away. If two Americans gaze at each other, which indicate they are intimate. In North America, the children there have learned to look at the other communicator directly. If they don’t, they are regarded lack of enthusiasm or confidence. If two Arabians are in conversation, they will look at each other warmly. Because they think eyes are the key of their existence. But in American eyes, they think this behavior is unsuitable or a homosexual behavior. These all because eye behavior in American, though very important, must follows a definite set of rules which basic on their ethnic background. The educated Englishmen believe direct eye contact with our communicators is gentlemanly. But Sweden use eye language more often than Englishmen. And the French especially like to look attentively at the other communicators with admiration. Japanese often look at the other communicator’s neck when they are in conversation. They believe eye contact is impolite. And Chinese consider gazing people is an unfriendly behavior Some South American Indians used to look at different directions when they are talking.
The face provides vital clues to our own feelings and those of the people around us. Of all the nonverbal channels, the face is the most important broadcaster of emotions.
In many cultures, smiles are signs of happiness or friendliness, like America and China. It is common for us to smile at others while passing them by on the street. In China, it is impolite for not smiling when you meet a friend on the street. But
sometimes, western people will feel disgusted about Chinese’s smile. For example, a
foreigner broke a dish in a restaurant and felt embarrassed. But Chinese who were on the spot smiled at him, which made him angrier. In fact, this smile means “Never mind”.
“Differences in touching behavior are highly correlated with culture. People in high contact cultures evaluate “close” as positive and good, and evaluate “far” as negative and bad. People in low contact are very different. They evaluate “close” as negative and bad, and “far” as positive and good.”
In China, people greet with each other with head nodding, smile, hand shaking and so on. Even good friends just hold hands for a short time or hammer softly on the other friend’s shoulder. It is common in China to see some girls/boys walk together hand in hand or shoulder by shoulder. But in some west countries, especially American, they consider it as the sign of homosexual.
We have already discussed some differences on nonverbal communication. Take careful of nonverbal communication will help us avoid many problems. The study of nonverbal communication makes us understand others very well and behave in proper ways without making too many mistakes.