Tuesday
July 22, 2014

Homework Help: English1A

Posted by Kuromi on Friday, October 30, 2009 at 5:44pm.

Ms. Writeacher I think revised it better this time.

Greetings and Gestures

Culture and society plays a large role on how individuals communicate with one another, including how they express themselves. There are various ways of communication such as through speaking, sign language, and body movement. Although most cultures might share the same basic emotions, the different forms of communication may vary from culture to culture, especially when it comes to greetings and gestures. So what would the polite thing to do if an American was greeted by a foreigner? Kiss? Bow? Shake hands? Would it matter who is in whose country? Does it make a difference? Because first impressions are most important when first meeting someone, it is imperative to be able to handle situations correctly by knowing what to do, as some people might take it offensively or take it personally by disrespecting them with a hug, even though it was good intentions. While some greetings and gestures may be appropriate in one culture, it may not be so in another, which is why it is important to be aware of cultural differences to avoid any misunderstanding.

Many cultures have different ways to properly greet a person, whether it is a family member, relative or a stranger. A greeting is not only important when people meet, but they are also a big part of a person’s everyday life. In Linda Lee’s and James Charlton’s The Handbook: Interpreting handshakes, gestures, power signals and sexual signs, Lee and Charlton state “Your style of interpersonal greetings reveals your social and your ethnic background, your feelings about yourself, and your attitude towards the person you are greeting” (Lee and Charlton 120). They way a person greets normally reveal how that person feels about the other. If not done in a proper manner people will feel that this person is not worth their time and we’ll end up a bad start of a new relationship. In American society the two most widely used forms of greeting are the wave and handshake. The wave is a simple open palmed, side to side motion usually with the right hand and although considered informal in some cultures, it is quite the norm here in America between friends and family. The handshake is also a common and generally simple greeting. The simple and more formal version of the hand shake is by firmly gripping other person’s hand while shaking. In many informal and friendly situations the once simple handshake evolved into an up and down motion followed by a different, hand grip on the second shake, followed by a third grip of just the fingers all finished with a knuckle bump and possibly a hug. However, in other countries such as Japan, this type of handshake would not only be unacceptable but also just plain rude.

In Japan the standard greeting is done by taking a bow. Although handshakes may be acceptable with some people in Japan, they prefer the traditional bow when being greeted by each other. It is not only proper to bow but also shows much more respect as well when greeting someone who is from Japan. The bow is done in a specific manner; bowing to a full thirty degrees is used as a sign of respect to someone whom is of higher rank than you such as your parents, grandparents or boss. However, according to Nancy Armstrong and Melissa Wagner in their book field Guide to Gestures: How to Identify and Interpret Virtually Every Gesture Known to Man bows of more than thirty degrees are reserved only for the Imperial family and is otherwise considered very disrespectful (103). In addition, because Asians have a strong sense of hygiene, they prefer to greet each other with as little physical body contact as possible. It is formal for the Japanese to fold their hands and bow in greeting, as opposed to those from India, the appropriate way to acknowledge one another is by placing their palms together as if praying and bend down or nod. So before one decides to stick out their hand to greet someone of another culture, doing their homework can make a huge difference in making a bad impression of those of another culture.

In other parts of the world, greetings are done with a little more intimacy and affection involved. For example, in places such as France, they do a double kiss on the cheek as a friendly gesture when greeting a friend or loved one. In Mexico, they greet each other with hug, and in Morocco, people normally shake hands and after meeting more than once, they also kiss on the cheek as well. These types of places including Italy where greetings involve hugs and kisses on the cheek show great respect and also much love for one another. On the other hand, cultures in the Middle East are not as intimate with each other as they are in Europe, unless they are greeting of the same sex. According to Nancy Armstrong and Melissa Wagner in their book Field Guide to Gestures: How to Identify and Interperet Virtually every Gesture Known to Man they state "People in Islamic countries do not display public displays of affection with members of the opposite sex because of strict laws governing public touching" (Armstrong and Wagner 17). Muslims avoid any physical contact with the opposite sex including handshake unless a woman offers her hand first. A male offering any type of physical contact while greeting a lady can cause a great deal of trouble, especially in countries where it is strictly forbidden.

Gestures are also something that people do not think about when traveling to a different country. There is not a single culture in the world that does not have a long history of gestures that has evolved into what is being used today. Gestures vary from simple hand movement and finger pointing to whole body movements. Although some gestures accompany certain greetings and spoken words, it is not always the case. A gesture does not always have to be linked with an utterance, nor does a person have to direct it to a perceiver. However to, have any kind of meaning it must be perceived by someone. It is commonly misconceived that a gesture’s meaning is embedded in the intention of the gesturer and not in the understanding of the gesture itself. Gestures are expressive to someone because they communicate with recipients whether they are received it correctly or incorrectly. A gesture is communication through its reception. It is defined as a posture or movement of the body or any of its members that is understood to be meaningful. For example “when you see political speeches the speaker might give a hand chop, one stiff hand chops down on the upturned palm of the other hand which means he is slicing through the verbal confusion to make a strong clear point”(Morris 103), or, “when the speaker gives the hand scissors, it is when the hands are crossed over one another and the forcibly sliced apart, as if they are the blades of a large pair of scissors which means the speaker wishes to finish an argument” (Morris 103). Additionally, gestures need to be distinguished apart from sign languages because sign language is fully grammatical whereas gestures are not. Gestures are an important means of teaching in a given social class. They are a large part of what is considered appropriate, courteous, polite, as long as it is done according to the proper culture. Failure to be briefed or prepared when dealing with other cultures is not only embarrassing but also gives important people a bad first impression when they unexpectedly give a bad gesture to a crowd.

When visiting other countries for the first time, especially if one is a rather famous person who will be approaching a large amount of people, is better off not giving any gestures at all. Although certain gestures might be okay in one country, might be offensive in another. For example, Richard Nixon, who was once known to be the Preside of the United States, gave a gesture of the famous “peace” sign upon his arrival as he stepped out of his jet, as he always have done in the past. While this sign might be acceptable in North America, it was completely disrespectful in the foreign country he was in. In Eliote Hoppes article “Gestures in Business: Cultural Differences” he states, “Immediately, the crowd below began to jeer the President who couldn't figure out why all of a sudden, he was receiving such a rude welcome. Imagine, a dignitary from another country visiting yours and ‘flipping the bird’ which in their country meant ‘greetings.’ What would your immediate reaction be?” As one can see, it is really important to know one’s audience and if traveling to other countries, it helps a great deal to be aware that some of the most commonly acceptable gestures at home can have a completely different meaning abroad. Although a smile is a normal gesture for most cultures, what might be common in one culture may not be in another. Russians do not smile when they are acknowledged by one another as it is a sign of stupidity and foolishness. Also, making eye contact when greeting or speaking is considered disrespectful in Asia, but here in America eye contact is always a must, otherwise it shows a sign of disrespect and may cause the other person to think he or she does not care.

Gestures in other countries vary widely such as in African and Asian countries. Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins wrote in his online article Gestures "Many Africans as well as Asian people call someone or indicate it is OK to approach by placing the fingers on the right hand downward, with the palm toward the speaker (caller) motioning with the whole hand down and toward the speaker" (Boyd Jenkins). In some African countries as well as other parts of the world the standard “come here” with a hooked finger, as is common here in America is considered very disrespectful. It is not uncommon to see many ignorant Americans traveling to foreign countries only to find themselves being disrespected or disrespecting others around them. If people take the time to research the culture and history of the area they are visiting they can actually have a fun and friendly vacation instead of an unhappy and displeasing visit.

It is difficult to avoid making judgment based on the way individuals greet each other, especially when it is not done properly. One country may be fine with a hug while others may find it disrespectful. However, it does not necessarily mean the person has bad manners. It could simply mean that traditions differ from culture to culture. Cultural differences and ethnic background affect the significance in the way people communicate with each other. What is normal and acceptable in one country may be rude or unusual in another. People must be aware of what is allowed and what is not when approaching or surrounded by others of a different background to avoid any miscommunications. Greetings differ so much between different countries and cultures everyone should take the time to learn the proper greeting for the area they’re visiting. Once everyone are respectable about other people’s cultural and knowing the differences between customs in other cultural, people can than continue having healthy and stronger relationships with each other no matter what cultural or country they come from.

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