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WHAT ARE SOME CULTURAL MISUNDERSTANDING?

I love to teach and learn from professionals and children about cultural diversity. Perhaps, you can add to the list for being more alert to cultural misunderstandings in non-verbal communication:

. Pay attention to how others make their gestures and movements. If they are culturally different from you, expect that their gestures may mean something slightly or even radically different from what you interpret. I know by just observing how teachers sit to listen to lectures that they may have other thoughts in mind to do rather than to be at this workshop. If I see this happening, I change my direction and make-up fun things to do or have the teachers give me input to keep them active.

. Ask questions about gestures that seem puzzling to you. If a certain gesture is embarrassing, teachers may be reluctant to tell you, so ask someone you trust to tell you the truth. I know I learned from a Jamaican teacher who shared their background and thoughts which was not the same from another Jamaican. When people belong to more than one culture or subculture this may be difficult. For example: men of one ethnic background may not be able to explain certain gestures which women of the same background make and vice versa. So, you may have to ask more than one individual. I remember one country in South America that had people living in the mountains and the others near the ocean at the same workshop. It seemed they had problems with each other. We needed to learn the “OUCH technique” which meant if it caused a stir, then they simply say “ouch!”

. Don’t imitate what you don’t fully understand. To do so may invite disaster. Some British do not like you too close to them like an arms length away.

. Apologize if you misinterpret another’s gesture. Then ask for correct information. Some Haitian children do not look you in the eye as their eyes are downward. Sometimes, we need to understand the culture better.

. Advise others who use inappropriate gestures which could embarrass them or someone else. Tell them in a way that does not make them “lose face.”

I would like to hear from you about other misunderstandings you may add to the list!

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