Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Your normal is weird (@ Peril Magazine)

I've got another post up at Peril, the Asian-Australian online magazine. It's about culture and mis-communication.

Take for example, the distinctive “head wobble” common in South Asia. It signifies that one is listening and agreeing with the person speaking to them; yet viewed through a Western lens, it may be interpreted as a sign of indecision or wishy-washiness. There does exist a stereotype in the West about South Asians being less than trustworthy, and I wonder if this most desi of gestures contributes to that. Or for another example, eye contact. It’s frequently lauded as essential for effective communication, and some sort of guarantee of truth-telling. (“Look me in the eye and say that.”) Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, looking someone directly in the eye can range from mildly inappropriate to downright confrontational, depending on the situation. Many Asian cultures, placing a high emphasis on hierarchy and proper deference to ones elders and social betters, frown on eye contact in many contexts.
So what does this mean for someone who’s absorbed this Asian value trying to make their way in the world, or at least in an Australia that holds very Western or Anglo norms of body language? How does one gain the trust of your boss, or impress a potential mate, or convince the police that you didn’t commit that crime, when your head keeps wobbling around or you don’t look them in the eye?


Check out the full post here.

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