By Danielle Chong As the world’s population grows and more people of different cultural backgrounds come across one another, there are bound to be situations where nonverbal communication would be useful such as, when greeting or having a conversation with someone of a different country. Through becoming familiar with other culture’s nonverbal behaviors one could easily avoid the problems of misinterpreting or offending another of a different culture. The first impression you make is often a lasting one when meeting other people, and if you were to greet someone in a way that they were not used to, you may offend him or her. When having a conversation with another, one’s body movement, facial expressions, hand gestures and attitude can often tell the other person many things about you. There are even hand gestures that can mean many different things in different countries and cultures. One hand gesture may mean something good in one culture, while the same hand gesture could seriously offend another in a different culture. As a teacher, one should be aware of many of these nonverbal behaviors so as not to offend any students or parents of students in the school. By studying intercultural aspects of nonverbal behavior, one could discover his or her own ethnocentrism. One could realize that all cultures have different beliefs and attitudes, some may value ranks and formality while another may value amiability. One could come to terms that there is not only just one way to greet people, but also many different ways that each possesses a different degree of respect within different cultures. As a teacher, it is extremely important to become familiar with other culture’s nonverbal behaviors so as not to lose the respect of the students or the parents by making some cultural mistakes that could easily offend one of another culture. You could just simply be in a restaurant and you may find yourself offending another person around you. For example, when eating with chopsticks, one should never play with them because this is seen as extremely disrespectful or if you are having tea with your meal, those who are younger and able to serve the tea must serve the guests and elders. One evening when my family and I were dining at a Japanese restaurant, which had special tables (where you sit on cushions only around an elevated table on a platform), one of the daughters of the family at the table across from us made a huge nonverbal offense. She must have been around middle school age and needed to use the restroom, so she stood up on the platform and walked around her family members to get down from the platform. This was considered to be extremely disrespectful to her family and the people dining around her, although she and her family found nothing to be wrong with her actions. Although it would have been very inconvenient, the proper thing for her to have done was to asked to be excused and have the portion of her party blocking the way get up and slide down from the platform to let her out, and then sit back down again. The rest of us in the restaurant did not take this offense so seriously because we figured that she did not realize if what she had just done was wrong. But this just goes to show that knowledge about other cultures’ nonverbal behaviors can prevent someone from making a horrible mistake.Danielle Chong is an education student at Nova Southeastern University (NSU), near Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
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