International boundaries cause misinterpretations

By on October 24, 2002

A friendly wave or a pat on the back may infer more meanings than one intends. Speaking a different language is not restricted to verbal communication. This is one thing that those of International decent have to learn when adjusting to American customs.
Clarification about American and international customs must occur in order to develop a mutual respect between cultures.
An international student orientation is held a few days prior to freshman orientation in order to help international students understand American gestures.
It is difficult for international students to grow up having to learn two completely different worlds.
“Where at home I would be taught how to do something one way, in school it was totally different. Not that it was bad, but just different,” said Anjali Desai, an international student of Indian decent.
Forms of nonverbal communication are a way to transfer meaning through body language and use of physical space.
“The effectiveness of communication in the International context often is determined by how closely the sender and receiver have the same meaning for the same message. If the communication is different, effective communication will not occur,” according to ‘Intercultural Communication’, international culture guide.
“Effective international communications require increased flexibility and cooperation by all parties. To improve understanding and cooperation, each party must be prepared to give a little.”
An individual may run the risk of being viewed as inconsiderate and uncaring if they do not adhere to proper cultural gestures.
Common forms of non-verbal communication are hand gestures, facial expressions, posture, clothing and hairstyles, interpersonal distance, eye contact and pauses.
Depending on the pace, style and expression of these gestures, body language can be interpreted through a variety of meanings.
A simple gesture may convey a large meaning. For example, a smile generally appears the same, but differs in motive when smiling at a stranger, close friend, loved one, or enemy.
Ben Oser adopted from South Korea, observes American body language as laid back and optimistic.
A person’s culture affects the way they interpret gestures and body language. Culture may be learned, shared, and cummulative from generations, symbolic, patterned or adaptive.
In many cases, international students use adaptive culture to fit in and better understand American ways.
A gesture such as the common handshake may contain various styles between cultures. In the U.S. a firm handshake is expected and acknowledge as friendly and inviting, however, in Britain the handshake is soft, the French shake hands lightly and quickly and German’s shake hands brisk and firmly.
Close friends in America will reunite by hugging, or giving a single kiss on the cheek. In France, students greet each other with multiple kisses on both cheeks, known as “bis.”
In the U.S., making direct eye contact with a firm handshake is a standard greeting. Other cultures, however, consider eye contact a form of disrespect. In Japan, bowing is the most formal way to greet one another.
Another perplexing gesture is that of saying hello.
“As a youngster, ‘hello’ or a ‘come here’ were slightly confusing gestures,” said Desai. “But, I was able to adapt to them.”
Acceptable ways to signal a person are to raise the index finger and curl it repeatedly, or raise a hand with palm facing inward, and waggle the fingers towards the body.
“Gestures can become a language of its own, such as sign language,” said Desai. “What one gesture means in one culture can mean the total opposite in another.”
The values that she was taught at home were confusing when she attended school.
“With most of our meals we ate with our hands,” said Desai. “My mom always made Indian food, some foods required utensils but other things like rice or bread you just eat with your hands.”
She was not taught that this was is bad manners to KIndergarten.
“Now, for a five year old wouldn’t that be a little confusing,” said Desai.
Cultural differences can cause misinterpretations, which may lead to poor communication and negative thought about other cultures.
“What I think someone is gesturing could mean something totally different,” said Desai.
Trying to respond to what is perceived may become a problem and it ends up being a mistake and miscommunication she said.
Freshman, Raechel Lin has family from Taiwan. She enjoys the multicultural atmosphere of America
“I love it. I like hugs and kisses,” said Lin.
Although they are not in wide use, certain nationalities have brought these customs to the United States and continue to practice them.
While it may be difficult for International Students to understand American customs and visa versa, knowledge of these differences may produce a better form of communication.
In the future, if a person feels offended by another culture’s portrayal of a hand gesture or non-verbal communication, they may need to step outside their customs and study a different culture.


About Jenn Press