By Jocelyn Thomas
Special to CSMS MagazineCulture influences every aspect of human life, from birth to death. Some cultures have similar elements, while others behave very differently. A large percentage of communication is non-verbal. Many gestures have different meanings in different parts of the world. The United States Army trains on these matters. On one of its websites, they explain to future international soldiers: “Some gestures that may be offensive in your country may have no meaning here. Before you are offended by a gesture, be sure that the offense is intended. If you are not sure ask.” The United States is a huge cultural mixing bowl. People come from every corner of the World. They bring elements of their culture with them. Below, there are some important facts about gestures that the readers should know.
In Western societies:- A wave of the hand or nod of the head may be used to acknowledge a friend in situations where a verbal greeting is not appropriate.- A handshake is a common greeting used by adults of either sex. However, it is generally used upon first meeting someone or greeting someone you have not seen for an extended period of time. Americans generally do not exchange handshakes daily.- A hug or kiss on the cheek is a common greeting among family members or very close friends of opposite sexes, especially if they have not seen each other for an extended period of time.- A hug or two kisses on the cheek are common greetings among European family members or very close friends of opposite sexes, especially if they have not seen each other for an extended period of time.- A hug or kiss on the cheek is a common greeting among Hispanic family members or very close friends of same sexes, especially if they have not seen each other for an extended period of time.In Eastern cultures:-Men kissing each other on their cheek.
-Americans comfortably stand about 30 inches (75cm) apart when they are talking.-Hispanics stand closer together. Standing too close to an American may make them feel uncomfortable or crowded.
In Western societies-You will not be expected to eat anything you do not want. Your host may serve you or allow you to serve yourself.- If you serve yourself, don’t take more than you can eat. It is better to get a second serving than leave a large portion on your plate. Many Americans will offer a second serving (called “seconds”) only one time. They will not usually force a second serving once it is declined. It is okay to ask for a second serving. Many Americans, who cook, think of this as a compliment.- Americans are indirect about when to end an evening. They may make a comment about how late it is getting or how early they might have to get up tomorrow. This is a sign that it is time to leave.In Eastern societies:-Food is an enjoyment and a luxury. You only eat to satisfy to hunger, not to stuff yourself.
– Students often report to the classroom early and exchange greetings and light conversation.- An instructor entering a classroom is a sign that class will begin. Students should take their seats. An instructor may exchange individual greetings with some students on the way into the classroom, but will not greet each student individually. If an instructor begins by greeting a class, he is inviting the class to respond with a like greeting.Some common American Gestures:-Thumbs Up – Positive gesture that means the outcome is good.-Thumbs Down – Opposite of thumbs up. It shows disapproval or a negative result.-O.K. – This gesture is made with the thumb and first finger. It signifies that everything is all right or that you are in agreement.-Stop – Holding the hand up, palm forward with the fingers either extended or together means stop. This can easily be confused for a wave of the open hand, which means “Hello”. You can tell which gesture is intended by the look on the individual’s face.Hello is usually accompanied by a smile.Note: Jocelyn Thomas studies Human Behavior at Florida Atlantic University. She is also a writer. She lives and works in Boca Raton, Florida. She wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine. Also see Surrounding ourselves with differences