Nonverbal Miscommunication Abroad
Just about any gesture you can imagine means something different in another culture and simply “being yourself” can cause serious misunderstanding. While living in Ethiopia I beckoned friends and workers by holding
my hand up and flexing my index finger—the perfect way to beckon a dog.
A Korean friend once told me, "Americans’ eyes are like lasers piercing through me." To show respect, attentiveness, and interest, North Americans look directly into the other person’s eye. But in many
cultures it is respectful to avert your eyes when someone is speaking to you. Connection and interest are communicated in other ways.
A wealth of information is available on nonverbal intercultural communication. The most popular book on the subject is Roger E. Axtell’s Gestures:
The Do’s and Taboos of Body Language Around the World.
See zzyx.ucsc.edu/~archer/intro.html for information, quizzes, and video.
The following are useful books on intercultural communication:
Silent Language by Edward T. Hall, Anchor; Reissue Ed. (July 3, 1973).
Hidden Dimension by Edward T. Hall Anchor; Reissue edition (September 1, 1990).
of Worldwide Gestures by Betty J. Bauml. Franz H. Bauml. Rowman & Littlefield (Non NBN); 2nd Ed. (July 23, 1997).
Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time by Edward T. Hall Anchor; Reissue Ed. (February 9, 1984).