Cultural Taboos Essay
Over the past decade the author has been presenting seminars, speeches and workshops around the United States on the subject of international behavior. This book is the result of accumulation of more than ten years of research on the subject and it includes research on his travels to England, Germany, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. All this reinforced a conviction that gestures are powerful communicators used by people all over the world. The purpose of this book is to let people know how powerful gestures can be when used correctly or incorrectly. He also wants you to know how a gesture can mean one thing here and another thing somewhere else, something as simple as a wave good bye, could get you into a lot of trouble in another country. This book was broken down into seven chapters: Chapter 1, illustrated with numerous examples, is that not only are gestures and body language powerful communicators, but different cultures use gestures and body language in dramatically different ways.
Chapter 2 discusses the most popular gestures found around the world, beginning with how we greet each other. Shaking hand is not the universal greeting. In fact, there are at
They group the countries by major geographic region. The organization of the book was a combination of narrative and topical. The basic point of view of the entire book was that if you are planning to leave the United States and travel to another country, you better either keep your hands in you pockets at all times or know the proper gesture for the country you intend on visiting. I would like to site some examples. An American teenager was hitchhiking in Nigeria. A carload of locals passed him. The car screeched to a halt. The locals jumped out and promptly roughed up the teenage visitor. Why? Because in Nigeria, the gesture commonly used in America for hitchhiking (thumb extended upward) is considered a very rude signal. An American couple on an auto tour in Australia was stopped by a police officer in Sydney for failing to signal before turning. Since they were tourists the officer gave them only a friendly warning. Relieved, the American man responded with a smile and the thumbs-up sign.
The police officer became enraged, ordered the couple out of the car, called a backup, searched the car, and finally gave the driver an expensive ticket. Later, back in their hotel and recounting their experience, the tourist learned that in Australia the thumbs-up gesture means “screw you!” As you can see this book has a humorous, but yet serious overtone. It covers important aspects of body languages & gestures in society which is serious stuff, that has a very strong impact on all that come in contact with you. Yet the author is able to express it in a comical nature. I enjoyed the book immensely. There are many ways the ideas in this book can be related to sociology. In fact the whole book is directly related to the subject of sociology especially the culture aspect of it. I will explain in the following paragraphs. Anthologists divide our actions and gestures into three broad categories: instinctive, coded and acquired. Instinctive gestures are those we do almost unconsciously.
An example would be when we are suddenly shocked or surprised, we tend to slap the back of our heads. Coded, or technical, gestures are created by preestablished agreement. For example hand signals used by TV directors, referees, umpires and brokers in the stock market. Acquired gestures, meaning our socially generated and acquired gestures. This grouping of gestures has been loosely and informally collected among separate societies. The acquired gestures come from different cultures. Each individual culture or sub-culture has its very own acquired gestures or mannerisms. I learned the difference between what we, as Americans, consider to be consensual in the area of gestures. If you attempt to take your American gestures and attitudes to another country, you’re in for quite the culture shock. An example of the culture shock you may experience if you were to enter a European home would be that they always keep the bathroom door shut.
Even when it is not occupied. As where an American home usually keeps its bathroom door partially open to indicate that the it is unoccupied. So in Europe, you would always knock on the door first. Touching is something that we as North Americans are not big on. We are not touch-oriented. With good friends, we may occasionally do some touching of the forearm or shoulder. We may even hug our good friends, but almost never do we hug casual acquaintances. Asians even join us in the shunning of such bodily contact. Latinos and Middle Easterners seem to dote on it with hearty embraces and warm pats on the back. In these places you may even see two male friends walking hand-in-hand down the street together, and all it signifies is friendship. If you were to see that on any street in the U.S. the first thing we as Americans would think is ” Hey those guys are homosexuals”.
The differences in culture are amazing, Especially in the areas of gestures. A person lacking knowledge of this could find himself in hot water if he were to visit one of our neighboring countries. Things that we do strictly out of habit as Americans, could be misconstrued as rude or offensive in other corners of the world. I will let you in on some of them. In Austria, Men rise when a woman enters the room. Chewing gum in public is considered inappropriate. Hands in pockets when conversing should be avoided. Placing your hands in your lap during a meal is considered rude. Americans usually do not abide by these rules. In England, Scotland and Wales, Loud conversations and any form of boisterousness in public places should be avoided. Do not stare at someone in public. If you smoke, it is the custom to offer cigarettes to others in your conversational group before lighting up (Not here, smokes are too expensive). In Turkey, Inadvertently pointing the sole of your shoe toward someone is an insult. Ask permission before smoking.
It is considered impolite to smoke or eat while on a public street. It is considered rude to cross your arms over your chest or having your hands in your pocket when conversing with someone. You must remove your shoes when entering a Turkish home. Turkish women will not converse with a man in casual conversation until they have been formally introduced. The thing that I found most interesting is that the “O.K.” circle made with the thumb and forefinger signifies homosexuality in their culture. In Iran, Shaking hands with a child shows respect for his parents. People rarely exhibit any signs of affection in public. The thumbs up sign is considered vulgar. Avoid blowing your nose in public. Refrain from slouching in a chair or stretching your legs out in front of you. Also watch that dreaded pointing the sole of your shoe , which again is considered offensive to anyone seeing it (keep you feet planted flat to keep yourself out of trouble).
In Saudi Arabia, A man accompanied by a veiled woman will probably not introduce her. Among the males, an embrace and cheek-kiss may be added to their greeting. Women are not permitted to drive vehicles. Take your shoes off before entering a room, any room. Any display of intimate areas of the body is disliked; this includes bare shoulders, stomach, and calves and thighs. Smoking of cigarettes in public is not common practice. However, it is not uncommon in some Saudi locations to pass the water pipe or hookah around to all those present in a room. In Japan, displays of emotion-fear, anger, exuberance- are rare because they are taught to suppress any such displays, especially in public. Standing with arms folded across the chest signals that the person is thinking intently. Women should avoid wearing high heels so as not to risk towering over Japanese counterparts.
Periods of silence may occur during meetings, do not rush to fill the silent void, they are just stopping to contemplate. Displaying a open mouth is considered rude. In Pakistan, eat only with the right hand because the left hand is used for bodily hygiene and is considered unclean. Also never offer to shake hands with your left hand for the same reason. Women are kept separated in social situations. Two men may be seen walking along holding hands. This is nothing more than a sign of friendship, not homosexuality. Last, but not least, In the good old United States, The only time you will see two men walking down the street holding hands is if they are openly homosexual. Stand at least an arms length away from each other while conversing or standing in public, we tend to need our comfort zone respected. Direct eye contact is very important. There are two well-know rude and insulting gestures in the United States. Both are recognized in all parts of the country.
They are the middle finger thrust and the forearm jerk, these gestures could get you into trouble. We wave to say “hello” or “good-bye”. We must learn that every culture has different types of values, beliefs, customs, norms and taboos. We have to except them and respect them for what they are and who they are. When going to other parts of the world and meeting people or when they come to our part of the world and we greet them it is very important to put ourselves in their shoes and not judge their traditions, values and ways of communicating. We must educate ourselves to their ways and except them for what they are. Our convictions and beliefs are no better than theres, they are just different. As human beings we must learn to adapt to each others differences and learn to except them, which is sometimes hard for people who do not understand them.
Most Americans tend to be insensitive to they ways of others, especially those who come from our neighboring countries, which tends to create tension among those people. To be honest I found some of the behaviors of other countries strange, such as women not being allowed to drive a motor vehicle in Saudi Arabia. If I was not allowed to drive because I was a female I would be quite angry. I also would probably be one of the first people to accuse someone of being homosexual, especially men, if I were to see two people of the same sex walking down the street holding hands. Those are things we need to except because this is part of someones culture. If this was how they were raised, and the things that they believe to be OK, who are we to judge it?
Since reading this book I have really opened my eyes to the way other countries do things that we might find unexceptable, and I now find them expectable. Had I not read this book I might have never opened my eyes to these cultural differences. I feel that everyone should read this book. I can not think of any reason why someone should not read this book. I dont feel that this book would offend anyone. Than again this is a strange world and you never know who will be offended by what. I feel that most people will be enlightened, supprised, and get a good laugh out of most parts of this book. There is a part of this book that deals with “mooning” which some may be offended by, but most people would probably get a good laugh out of it. I personally highly recommend this book, great bedtime reading. If you plan to travel this book is a must.