Cultural Differences and Nonverbal Communication Name of Student Institution



In the present society, there is increased physical and social contact between people from different cultural inclinations with respect to communication, ethnicity and race among others. This has been made possible by technological breakthroughs leading to easy and faster movement of people from place to place, from state to state and intercontinental level. This high mobility has resulted in the intermingling of people from different cultures creating a culturally diverse global fraternity. Since these individuals are used to their culture, yet they must communicate through non verbal communications, misinterpretations in terms of meanings are likely to occur. The purpose of this paper is to give insight on how nonverbal communication is directly affected by cultural difference in terms of changing the desired meaning and interpretations. This essay focuses on the extent of change of nonverbal communication brought about by cultural differences on the following four categories of non verbal communication in the following order: Kinesics, proxemics, paralanguage and appearances. Kinesics comprises body movements, eyesight, gestures, voice tone and facial expressions. Simple gestures such as nodding differ in interpretation of meaning across cultures (Jandt, 1995). For instance in Ugandan culture, in Africa, women bow down and go on their knees as greetings, this same action performed in Vatican (Rome) culture means something totally different such as prayer session or respect to their deity and will be highly condemned as worshiping a human form without due respect to God. Waving goodbye in Italy, china and Columbia, involves moving the fingers and palm back and forth. In Malaysia, the same gesture would be taken as an insult, while in United States; it is interpreted as signaling someone to move closer to the signal. Simone, Elena, & Paula (2009) research analyzed the conventional gesture for numbers and found out that they differ


CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AND NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION with culture in consistency of form both across and within individuals. They were keen to establish whether individuals can differentiate between signaling and counting. Present research qualifies finger gestures of some cultures as conventional, leaving out others. It is only in German that the thumb is in many instances used to indicate the number one (1). In comparison to Canada and France, the index finger is used instead. If a Canadian is to give instructions to a German involving the thumb, the results will be ambiguous. Ambiguity is one of the characteristic of non verbal communication and most of the messages the sender wants delivered is usually hideous and results in misunderstanding (Yuan, 2007). It is therefore, of significant benefit to accompany the gesture with some verbal messages in conveying the proper meaning in accordance with the situation at the moment for understanding of the target receivers. In china, raising the thumb means giving praise, where as in American natives the same thumb will mean placing a request for a free ride. In this context, an American man requesting for a free ride from a Chinese, unless a follow up of verbal request accompanies the signal, the Chinese will drive away a happy man being praised for safe driving and the American will be remorseful and interpret it as being mean. Yuan (2007), relates this misunderstanding on lack of proper translation citing foreign culture as the cause. Since these two cultures are foreign to each other, there must be interlearning and tolerance of both cultures for understanding. Duration of eye contact varies in diverse cultures (Shutter, 1979). According to Argyle &Ingham (1972), 2.95 seconds is the average length of time for eye contact and 1.18 seconds, average length of time individuals can gaze on one another in United States. Any duration less is interpreted as lack of interest or dissatisfaction. Any duration more is taken as communication of unusually high interests. To non Americans unaware of such cultures, false accusations are likely to follow.



Secondly, the relative distance and the intelligible touches between the sender and the receiver of the signal, commonly referred to as proxemics is also a factor in consideration. This varies in relation to; context, status and the degree of acquaintance. For instance, in American culture arms length distance is ideal, (30 inches) .Whereas, close distance to Americans portray suggestive behavior for intimacy or privacy, In Japan and China, a far away stance is ideal and acceptable .Doing the same in America implies one is “cold”, not welcoming or dislikes your interaction. This portrays how the distance between individuals can be perceived in different versions. Chinese culture is classified as” contact culture “due to their exhibition of often touching regardless of sex. In china two men can walk holding hands without attracting unnecessary attention since its normal and a sign of true friendship. The same men walking in an American street will attract positive attention from the public and the Chinese men will be branded homosexuals. This diversity in culture leads to vilification of innocent cultures in cases they barely understand. The third aspect, Paralanguage is defined as the vocal cues that accompany certain spoken languages. Buller, &Woodall (1996). Found this to be particularly common in different cultures though do not differ largely .Different languages use different pitch, volume ,tones and silence duration differently to send home their intended meanings and emotions. These are their typical identities and cultural badges as they know themselves. Ironically this is used as an instant classifying clue to them by generalities made by observers. Not only may individuals rely on their own cues as affirmation or self verification of their own identities …but others may treat such information as outward reflection of their inner self (Burgoon,1994). In America the volumes of speech are varied depending on the immediate context but mostly use low tones to


CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AND NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION converse over the telephone. They use low tones in private places, bus terminus, shopping malls, offices to communicate, this to them is being modest and respectful. The Chinese counterparts are a true opposite. They talk in ultra high tones as used to back in china regardless of where they are. This to Americans is the lack of respect and modesty unless otherwise explained. Thus, a Chinese in America is likely to find it difficult to adapt to low tones and may view Americans as verbally mean. On the other hand the American will view him in the context of being from a backward culture. In the real sense both are right in their own cultures. Hua (2007). For instance, in response to the question “Will you marry me”, silence in America would be inferred as indecision; on the other hand, in China it would be interpreted as acceptance” .Relating this to international business transactions, many are bound to lose in silence. This just shows how cultural difference can distort the meaning in communication. What people assume to be is not necessarily it. The fourth and last aspect in non verbal language is appearance. The outward display of the physical appearance in terms of how we dress and general outlook can be sending a message to people around us. In America, the way women in public and private formal jobs dress, i.e. in short skirts with hems just above the knee, is ideal for a normal working day and acceptable as office code. To add on that, many female celebrities wear “scanty” clothing in public this is interpreted as fashion in Europe and America. In most developing countries and African conservative cultures, the same kind of dressing is analyzed from a totally different angle. It is viewed as seduction for men, being horny, or worst of it, one can be mistaken for a harlot seeking a mate.


CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AND NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION In the Muslim culture, such dressing code is condemned and viewed as not conforming to the precepts of Prophet Muhammad’s divine teachings and warrants a death penalty through stoning. It would not be a surprise whatsoever for an American. Female celebrity in a Diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia to be denied access into a religious office simply because her formal dressing at the work place in America, despite being acceptable by fellow countrymen and women, is viewed as a sign of impurity to the Muslim brothers and sisters. In concluding this essay, the use of non verbal language is widespread all over the world, Different cultures to use different signs, cues emblems and gestures in their social interactions that are learnt within their specific cultural niches .Since communication is an integral part of life individuals must exchange ideas through it. It has to be accepted that some forms of nonverbal communications are intentional and occur within the conscious of individual’s minds whereas others are not. The social cultural environment is neither to blame since we are not always aware of how gestures shall be perceived by others of different cultural disposition in the social surrounding. Occasions where misinterpretations occur, they should be quickly managed before attributions set forth. From this essay; one thing stands out in support of my argument. Cultural differences have a considerable effect in changing the meaning and deduction of non verbal communication.


CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AND NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION References Burgoon, J., Buller, D. & Woodall, W. (1996).Nonverbal communication: The unspoken dialogue. NY: McGraw Hill. De-hua, W. & Hui, L. (2007). Nonverbal language in cross-cultural communication.. Sino-US English Teaching: New York Pika, S., Nicoladis, E. & Marentette, P. (2009). How to order a beer: cultural differences in the use of conventional gestures for numbers. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 40:70, DOI: 10.1177/0022022108326197. Yuan, H. (2007). Nonverbal communication and its translation. Canadian Social Science. Vol.3, No.4. Pp 77-80.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful