By Chantale JimenezCSMS Magazine Staff WriterA situation in which you may need to interpret the nonverbal behavior of someone from another culture may be if you do not speak the same language as the other person, but still want to communicate with them. For example, when my mother came to the United States from Colombia, she was 18 years old and couldn’t speak English. She enrolled into classes in a local community college, and they put her in an ESOL class, where she made friends with a Japanese girl who was her age. The Japanese girl didn’t know English either, and so to communicate with one another, they used signs and gestures such as nodding and smiling.My mother tells me that on the first day of school, they saw each other in class and smiled at one another. Later on during lunch, my mother went to the cafeteria to eat lunch but didn’t have anyone to sit next to because she didn’t know anyone. Then she saw the Japanese girl from her class sitting alone, so she walked over to her table, and by making signs and gestures, asked her if it was ok for her to sit down and eat lunch with her. Eventually, they formed a really nice friendship, and eventually, both of them learned English and could speak to each other better, but their original friendship started with using nonverbal communication. However, in the case of my mom, she and the Japanese girl were later able to become friends because they didn’t misinterpret each other’s nonverbal behavior. For example, had my mom made a gesture that the Japanese girl would have found offensive, then they may never have become friends. Problems can definitely arise if nonverbal behavior is misinterpreted, such as accidentally offending someone by invading their person space.In different cultures, the distance between two people talking to one another varies, and if you were to stand too closely to someone who is not used to it, you would have to interpret that they are uncomfortable from their nonverbal behavior. If you are not able to catch their discomfort, then you may risk them feeling threatened, awkward, and possibly even offended by your behavior. I believe that as a teacher, studying the different nonverbal behaviors of different cultures will help me discover my own ethnocentrism by allowing me to compare different cultures to my own. For example, according to Larry Samovar, people in the U.S. shake hands to greet, which is how I would normally greet a person. In Japan, though, men greet by bowing to one another. As a teacher, if I had a Japanese student who repeatedly bowed when greeting me, studying nonverbal behaviors would allow me to understand his behavior and not interpret it as being strange.Also, by learning about the nonverbal behaviors of other countries, I can better judge between which behaviors seem better than my own culture’s or seem strange. For example, crossing one’s legs in the U.S. is not considered a bad thing, while it is interpreted as a social taboo in Korea. Upon learning this, I think it’s pretty strange and kind of ridiculous that they would consider it a taboo, but this only proves just how different two cultures can be.Below are the gestures: American versus Hispanic (Sorry for the gap)
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