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By Scott SchrosderSpecial to CSMS MagazineThere are many situations in which someone would need to interpret the nonverbal behavior of someone from another culture. An example would be in a social setting with a mixture of people from different cultures. If one person makes a gesture that is common in their own culture it could be offensive or even threatening to someone of a different culture in such a mixed setting. These types of problems could arise as a result of not understanding differences in nonverbal behavior.Studying the intercultural aspects of nonverbal behavior can assist future teachers in discovering their own ethnocentrism. We naturally tend to associate with our own frame of reference toward acceptable behavior. We tend to overlook or even ignore how our non verbal actions can affect others because it is engrained in who we are. At the same time the actions of persons from other cultures can be viewed as offensive to us because of their foreign and “strange” nature.I can recall an experience I had while serving in the Air Force in Australia. President Bill Clinton was visiting Australia and gave a speech in Canberra. After the speech he waved to the crowd and gave the gesture that Americans know as the peace sign. While doing so he unknowingly made a gesture that is very offensive to Australians. Simply turning his wrist so that his knuckles faced the crowd with his two fingers up created the gesture that indicates “up yours” to an Australian. While the gesture was clearly unintentional, it created quite a stir with his hosts, and it was clear that he did not intend “up yours” to the people of Australia. But he still offended them by not taking the time to understand the importance of his nonverbal actions.Note: Scott Schrosder teaches Cross-cultural studies at University of North Florida. He wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine.Also see “Tools that can help teachers in multiethnic classrooms.”

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