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Cultural Differences of Body Languages in Intercultural Comm

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  【Abstract】 This paper discusses the culture differences of body languages intercultural communication. It gives the examples of differences in facial expression, postures, eye contact, touching, hand gestures of different people from different counties in intercultural communication, points out that body language is the most important behavior of nonverbal communication, one cannot be a successful communicator if one doesn’t know the cultural difference of use of the body languages.
  【Key Words】 cultural difference; body language; intercultural communication
  【中图分类号】G623.31 【文献标识码】B【文章编号】1001-4128(2011)03-0008-02
  
  Any communication process is consisted of verbal communication and nonverbal communication. “Nonverbal communication includes the nonverbal messages of body language, space, touch, time and voice etc.”[1]
  Body language is the most important behavior of nonverbal communication. Some scholars think that body language is the basis of the study of all the nonverbal behaviors. “The study of body movements, or body language, is known as kinesics. Kinesics includes gestures, head movements, facial expressions, eye behaviors, and other physical displays that can be used to communicate.”[2] It shows that nonverbal behavior is as important as language in intercultural communication. Being a successful communicator, one should not only use the languages properly, but also know the history, understand the customs of other countries and learn the nonverbal messages which exist among the various groups and community in different country of the world.
  Because of culture differences, the same body languages might have different meanings and have different social functions in different cultures or decode differently by people from different countries. Examples are Arab men often greet by kissing on both cheeks. In Japan, man great by bowing, and in the United States, people shake hands; physical contact between a male and a female is a common practice of social greeting in western society, but it is a taboo in some Asian culture; when Japanese people exchange gifts, they use both hands, and it is also polite to hand objects to others with both hands for most Chinese people. But muslins never use left hand to eat or pass objects to others because they think left hand is unclean. Sometimes even a same behavior would have two opposite meaning. For example, Chinese Tibetans stretch out their tongues when meeting people, this is the way to express their politeness and respect, but when Americans doing this, they want to express despite to others. So body language may cause difficulties and misunderstanding, lead to failure in intercultural communication. Following are some examples of use some of the nonverbal messages in intercultural communication which frequently appear in the course of communication and might easily cause misunderstanding.
  I Diversity of Facial Expression
  Facial expressions are the most obvious and important source of nonverbal communication. In different cultures, the same facial expressions may acquire different meanings. Smiling is a good example to show the diversity of facial expression in different. “The whole world smiles, but the amount of smiling, the stimulus that produces the smile, and even what the smile is communicating often shift from culture to culture.”[3] People tend to consider smiling as a universal cue that symbolized a happy feeling. In China, people always think smile is the symbol not only of happiness but also the mark of kindness, friendship, modesty, politeness, apology, etc. Most Chinese people often depicted a friendly and polite person as “He/She is always smiling.” In Thailand, people smile much of the time. In America, a smile also expresses happiness or friendly affirmation. However, in Japan, smiling has some other functions, to them a smile not only expresses happiness and affection but is also a way to avoid embarrassment and unpleasantness. For example, the Japanese always smile at the guests no matter how sad the situation is, in their culture, a smile is sometimes used to mask emotion or avoid answering a question. In Korean culture, too much smiling is often perceived as the sign of a shallow person.
  2 Diversity of Postures
  Postures are significant for politeness in different cultures. For example, in China, according to the tradition, it is regarded as proper behavior for people “to stand like a pine, sit like a clock, walk like wind and lie like a bow”. That is to say, in China, the postures of stand, sit, walk and lie are the signals to judge a person’s quality and symbols of politeness. But postures are also culture-oriented. The same postures are seen as different meaning by the peoples of different culture backgrounds. Following are diversity of use or understanding of postures in various cultures:
  2.1 Postures of Reaction to Introduction
  In China, when people meet in some occasions and are introduced to know each other when they are seated, people of both sides should stand up to greet each other, no matter the people are males or females. It is regarded as a rude behavior if one keeps sitting. While in English speaking countries, in this situation, it is polite that all the males should stand up except those very aged, for the females, they are allowed to keep sitting except the hostesses of the occasions. Women are only hope to stand up when they are introduced to those who are much older than themselves.
  2.2 Posture of Standing
  In China, slouching when meeting others such as older, higher- levered and older generation people are regarded as rude behaviors. In the United States, where being casual and friendly is valued, people never mind slouching when they are standing. For Chinese people, this kind of postures can be the signal of ignorance or despise. In many other countries, “such as Germany and Sweden, where lifestyles tend to be more formal, slouching is considered a sign of rudeness and poor manners.”[4]
  2.3 Posture of Sitting
  The manner in which people sit also can communicate a message. In China, falling into chairs when talking with others is regarded very rude, but for people of the United States, it is a casual way of talking with others. For Chinese people crossing one’s legs when facing others or talking with others is an impolite behavior, and as some scholars show in their research book, it is a social taboo in Korea, in Ghana and in Turkey, the posture is extremely offensive, people in Thailand never do this, because they believe that the bottoms of the feet are the lower part of the body, they should never be pointed in the direction of another person.
  3 Diversity of Eye Contact
  Eyes play very special and important role in communication of people, they can express the most subtle and complex meaning. As Chinese people say, “Eyes are the windows of a person’s psyche.” People are more sensitive to eye behaviors than to any other nonverbal behaviors. “The way we use eye contact not only transmits messages to others and reflects our personality but also indicates what we are thinking.” [5]
  In intercultural communication, how to look at others? How to understand the way of being looked at by the others? These are the most difficult questions to answer concerning with the use of body languages in communication. The misinterpretation of the use of eye contact can lead to serious misunderstanding. According to the scholars’ research, people in Western societies expect the person with whom they are interacting to look at them in the eyes. “They believe such contact shows interest in the other person and helps them assess the truthfulness of the other person’s words.”[6]For example, American people like to look directly at in the others eyes, for them, this is a way to show concerning and honesty to the others. The English also consider looking at people directly for a long period as a behavior of attentive listening. “People in the Middle East, especially Arabs, also consider gazing a way to show respect in communication, because they think one can see a person’s soul from the person’s eyes.” [7]When they talk they look directly into the eyes of their communication partner for long period of time. On the contrary, direct eye contact is a taboo or an insult in many Asia cultures. For example, Chinese people don’t like to look at others directly in the eyes, especially the eyes of strangers or the opposite sex. When they meet people, they just look at others eyes for a short while and then move the eyes away, because they think this is the way to show modesty to the others. Chinese people would feel that the Americans are too aggressive and rude while American people mistake the meanings showed by the eyes of Chinese people as dishonesty, despite, absent-mined, timid or cold. And in China, according to traditional way of thinking, people even think that it is a frivolous conduct if one looks straight into the eyes of opposite sex, “but Italian men may gaze at women all the time and the women don’t feel offended.”[8] In Japan, prolonged eye contact is considered rude, threatening, and disrespectful. Cambodians consider direct eye contact as an invasion of one’s privacy.
  

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