Language studies traditionally have emphasized verbal and written language, but in the late dozens of years have begun to consider communication that takes place without words. In some types of communication people express more nonverbally than verbally. It has been said that communication is only 20 percent verbal while the rest is intonation, body language. The fact remains that mastering vocabulary and grammar is only the beginning of effective communication (John Mole, 2003). Speaking is just one mode of communication. Research suggests thhat nonverbal communication is more important in understanding human behavior than words and the nonverbal “channels” seem to be more powerful than what people say. Moreover, body language varies from country to country. In different countries people greet each other differently, look at each other’s face for different lengths of time and display affection differently (John M. Wiemann, Rendall P. Harrison, 1983). Much of our nonverbal behavior like culture tends to be frequently beyond our awareness. In this essay I will inntroduce the nonverbal communication differences in different cultures and its importance to study the body language of one culture. I will concentrate in describing such elements of nonverbal communication across cultures as following: Posture, Gesture, Greetings, Facial expressions, Eye contact, To
1. BODY LANGUAGE
Universal emotions, such as happiness, fear, and sadness are expressed in a similar nonverbal way throughout the world. People believe that shoulder shrug was universal for an inability to do something or innocence. Nodding and shaking the head almost always means “yes” and “no”. A smile is universally involuntary reaction to joy, contentment, or gratification. Something that we may assume are universally understood may not be.
The range of stable human postures is very large, about, 1000 according to the anthropologist Hewes (1957) who has studied the postures used in different human cultures. Posture can be the focus of definite social rules. The Japanese recognize three levels of deference in bowing, up to 45, and sometimes use boowing machines for instruction (Michael Argyle, 1996). Sitting posture is a constant source of cultural misunderstanding. In the United States, where being casual and friendly is valued, people often fall into chairs, even put their feet on their desks, sometimes just sit on the carpeted floor, or slouch when they stand. In hurts nobody in this case. But the same posture may cause serious conflicts when it is transferred to another culture setting. People in the Arab culture believe that the so
It is true that there are many gestures which are unique to particular areas, and meaningless in others (Michael Argyle, 1996). According to Ekman and Friesen´s definition, an emblem can be interchanged with an equivalent verbal form (Adam Kendon, 1980). Emblems are gestures which have a direct verbal translation, like head-nods, beckoning, and pointing. For example, in China, to beckon someone, the palm faces downward and the fingers are moved in a scratching motion. People should avoid using the index finger, palm up and toward you, in a back forth curling motion toward your body. That gesture is used only for animals and can be considered rude. The open hand is used for pointing (not just one or two fingers) Also communicating with Chinese people one should avoid using feet to gesture or to move or touch other objects because the feet are considered lowly and dirty. The same applies to
Greetings vary a lot between cultures (Michael Argyle, 1996). Perhaps the most common way to greet someone in Western countries is a ha
1.4 FACIAL EXPRESSIONS (Smiling)
While some say that facial expressions are identical, meaning attached to them differs. There have been a number of carefully conducted cross-cultural studies. In a study of eleven cultures, Keating (1981) found that smiling was interpreted as happiness in all of them, though the effect was weaker in Brazil. Non-smiling was seen as dominant in all cultures, except Kenya. A lowered brow was seen as dominant in most cultures, but not in the Canary Islands, Brazil, or Thailand. It has been claimed that the rapid eyebrow flash is a universal sign of greeting, agreeing to social contact or other friendly attention (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1972), but it does not seem to be widely used in Britain or America. It is evident that there are some aspects of facial expression which are universal, but that there is also variation. The Keating studies suggest that the brows are more variable than the mouth. Here are some examples of such variability:
Kenya: happiness by lowered brow;
Thailand: unhappiness by raised brow;
US blacks: anger by eye-rubbing, sucking the teeth;
Chinese: anger by narrowed eyes.
More important, though, are cultural variations in “display rules”, governing when an emotional expression should be shown. A dramatic example of this was given by an experiment in which Japanese and American subjects displayed quite different expressions after watching a stressful and unpleasant film of sinus surgery. Their facial expressions were videotaped, unknown to the subjects, and very similar expressions of disgust, etc. were shown by both groups. However, in a subsequent interview about the film, Japanese subjects produced happy faces while the Americans continued to show negative expressions. Another experiment was made by Shimoda, Argyle, and Ricci Bitti (1978). They asked British, Italian, and Japanese performers to count from one to fifteen in twelve emotional styles. After decoding the videotapes following results were made. The English and Italians could judge their own and each other’s emotions quite well, but not those of the Japanese; the latter could judge the others better than they were judged by them, but were not very good at judging Japanese emotional expression. The Japanese have a display rule that one should not show negative emotions. The Japanese smile is used as a mask, and may express reserve or embarrassment (Michael Argyle, 1996). In Japan, people may smile also when they are sad, happy, apologetic, angry, or confused. In Korean culture, smiling signals shallowness and thoughtlessness. The Korean attitude toward smiling is expressed in the proverb, “The man who smiles a lot is not a real man”. For other Asians, smiling can mean disagreement, anger, frustration, confusion, or a substitute for “I am sorry” or “Thank you.” When Puerto Ricans smile, the message may be “Please”; “Thank you”; “You are welcome”; “Yes, what can I do for you?” or “Excuse me, please. May I see you for a moment?” (Norine Dresser, 1996). Many Europeans and Americans smile primarily as an expression of friendliness, however, examples show that people from other places may attach other meanings to it.
1.5 EYE CONTACT
The number of messages we can send with our eyes is almost limitless. The uses and variation of eye contact also differ from culture to culture. Studies have confirmed that there are higher levels of gaze for Arabs, South Americans, and Greeks. A pair of Arabs in conversation in the laboratory look at each other more than two Americans or two Englishmen. Gaze and mutual gaze are very important to Arabs, and they find it difficult to talk to someone wearing dark glasses, or when walking side by side. Not facing directly enough is regarded as impolite (Michael Argyle, 1996). People in the most Western societies also expect direct eye contact while communicating. There is even a tendency to be suspicious of someone who does not follow the culturally prescribed rules for eye contact. Direct eye contact is not a custom throughout the world. In Japan, for example, prolonged eye contact is considered rude, threatening and disrespectful. The meaning of gaze also be different. Black Americans are reluctant to look at people in authority since it is felt to communicate equality and hence disrespect (Hanna, 1984). Student in south India are excited but embarrassed by a direct gaze from a member of the opposite sex. People from many Asian, Latin American, and Caribbean cultures also avoid eye contact as a sign of respect. Cultural differences affect how people use their eyes to speak and listen (Norine Dresser, 1996).
There are great cultural differences in the amount and type of touching. Anthropologists distinguish between contact and non-contact cultures. Contact groups include the Arabs, Latin Americans, southern Europeans (Greeks, Turks), and a number of African cultures. This is illustrated by Jourard´s study (1966) of the frequencies with which couples touched each other at cafes: in San Juan (Puerto Rico) they touched 180 times per hour, in Paris 110, in London 0. The real contact areas are South America, especially Costa Rica, and the Arab countries, though it is mainly between people of the same sex, who may hold hands or have an arm around the other’s shoulders (Michael Argyle, 1996). Japanese people do not approve of public body contact. Touching a member of the opposite sex is particularly repugnant to their sensitivities. Asians from countries other than Japan are equally disapproving when they see people from other cultures touching or kissing each other. Conversely, in Asian countries, it is perfectly acceptable for two women or two men to walk in public holding hands. However, when they practice this sign of friendship in some European countries or America, they are frequently mistaken for homosexuals. Same sex hand holding or walking arm-in-arm also occurs among Latinos, French, Spanish, Italians, Greeks, and Middle Easterners (Norine Dresser, 1996). Islamic and Hindu typically do not touch with the left hand. To do so is a social insult. Left hand is for toilet functions. Mannerly in India to break your bread only with your right hand. Islamic cultures generally do not approve of any touching between genders (even hand shakes). But consider such touching (including hand holding, hugs) between same-sex to be appropriate. Many Asian people believe the head houses the soul. Therefore, when another person touches their head, it places them in jeopardy. It is prudent for outsiders to avoid touching the heads and upper torsos of all Asians (Norine Dresser, 1996).
In all cultures people decorate and display their bodies. Clothes are the main channel, and one of the main messages is wealth and status shown by the quality of clothing, and the elaborate nature and expense of adornments. Status also depends on keeping up with fashion. Clothes indicate occupational roles, and in Japan there are special uniforms for almost every occupational group, even gangsters (dark glasses). Scottish tartans, English college and club ties, T-shirts with messages are all examples of local symbolic systems of a similar kind. There are other local codes based on how clothes are worn. For example, the Ethiopian toga can be worn to indicate gaiety, sadness, pride, abasement, going to church, mourning, etc. (Messing, 1966). Degrees of orthodoxy among Jews are shown by details of clothes as well as hair. Arabs keep themselves very well covered, in contrast to the non Arab societies of the Sudan, who go stark naked in a similar climate. Arab women in particular are subject to powerful conventions about modesty; in many areas they still stay at home most of the time, and when they appear in public are completely covered and veiled, with the face covered and only eyes showing. Western women adorn themselves with cosmetics and ear-rings. Africans of both sexes go a lot further than this in some tribes. Bodily decoration includes: body-painting, tattooing, nose-rings, circular plates in the lips, etc. People from Western countries should be aware of wearing shoes while visiting Asians. Removing shoes while entering ones home is a tradition in Korea, Philippines, Thailand, some areas in China, Iran, Japan and India. Furthermore, when visiting a Japanese home and taking off shoes, the toes of the shoes should face the door. Another belief about shoes among some people from the Middle East and Asia is that one should never show the soles of the shoes-while still on the feet-to another person. To do so is insulting. This belief is related to the notion that the feet ate the lowest part of the body, both physically and metaphysically. This could happen inadvertently, for example, when a person crossed their legs or sat in the recliner and the shoe soles pointed outward. Some people also believe it is discourteous to step over someone’s feet or leg.
1.8 SPATIAL BEHAVIOR
Every living thing has a physical boundary that separates it from its external environment. Beginning with the bacteria and the simple cell and ending with humans. Every organism has a detectable limit which marks where it begins and ends. The act of laying claim to and defending a territory is termed territoriality. In humans, it becomes highly elaborated, as well as being very greatly differentiated from culture to culture (E.T.Hall, 1990). E.T.Hall´s original observation that Arabs stand closer than Americans (1959) was confirmed by Watson (1970) in his studies of foreign students in the USA. Arabs also stand at more directly facing orientation, and southern Europeans even more so. People from contact cultures stand closer, face more directly, touch and look more, and speak louder. Genuine cross-cultural studies are few, but it has been found that Indonesian students use less space than similar Australians. Latin Americans on average need less space than North Americans, but there are regional variations: Costa Ricans stand closer than Columbians or Panamians. The explanation of these special behavior differences is that they may derive from wider aspects of the environment, such as the size of houses and the degree of crowding. Cultures develop more or less explicit rules about spatial behavior. Those who stand or sit far away are seen as cold, aloof, and withdrawn, while those who come too close are seen as embarrassingly intrusive and over-intimate. There are rules governing spatial behavior for different situations in any culture. In Britain an USA, for example, Cook (1970) found that two people sitting in a pub prefer to sit side by side, with their backs to the wall. In a restaurant or cafeteria, on the other hand, they sit opposite each other. When they are seated people adopt a considerably greater distance than when standing: 5-8 ft as opposed to 1,5ft – 3 ft (Michael Argyle, 1996).
Cultural diversity in bodily communication is a topic of great practical importance, since cultural differences in non-verbal communication are a major source of friction, misunderstanding, and annoyance between cultural and national groups (Michael Argyle, 1996). Body language covers a large area referring to any little movement of any part of the body. According to some scholars in the field, the body language vocabulary totals over 700,000 items. We send information on attitude toward person (facing or leaning towards another), emotional status (tapping fingers, juggling coins), and desire to control the environment (moving towards or away from a person). All people use movement to communicate, culture teaches us how to use and interpret these movements. The differences in culture are amazing, especially in the area of body language. In this essay I have covered only some elements of nonverbal communication. I have described how greetings, posture, eye-contact, touch, gestures, appearance, facial expressions, special behavior vary from one country to another. Studying these differences can open our eyes to the way other countries do things that we might find unacceptable and which may differ from our own way of behavior. I do agree with E.T.Hall, who says that the language of behavior is extraordinary subtle. Without these unwritten subtle systems of managing the tremendous diversity of encounters in everyday life, man would be nothing but a machine.
1. John M.Wiemann and Randall P. Harrison. Nonverbal Interaction. Sage Publications Beverly Hills/London/New Delhi, 1983, p. 48.
2. Adam Kendon. Nonverbal Communication, Interaction and Gesture. Mouton Publishers The Hague/Paris/New York, 1981, p. 459.
3. Michael Argyle. Bodily Communication. Routledge, London, 1996, p. 49, 51, 58, 60, 62, 65.
4. E.T.Hall. The Silent Language. Anchor Books, New York, 1990, p. 158.
5. E.T.Hall. Beyond Culture. Anchor Books, New York, 1989, p. 82.
6. Norine Dresser. Multicultural Manners. New Rules of Etiquette for a Changing Society. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York/Chichester/Brisbane/Toronto/Singapore, 1995, p. 12-14, 22.
7. John Mole. Mind Your Manners. Managing Business Cultures In The New Global Europe. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 2003, p. 18.