An American visits a cemetery and notices an Asian gent placing a bowl of fruit on a grave. “When do you think your friend will be eating that fruit?” he asked. “About the same time that yours will be smelling those flowers,” the other man replied.
This story clarifies a point about the ethnocentricity of cultural biases. The way we do things makes sense to us, but not necessarily to others.
I did a little research on body language today. I guess the post World-Series ritual of bear hugging and jumping up and down, like third-graders hopped up on too much Yoo-Hoo, sort of made me curious. Plus, I recently returned from Italy and, just trying to get street directions, I spent more time bobbing and weaving than Manny Pacquiao. Not to mention the living in LA thing, where middle fingers rise as often as Hollywood-producer erections.
See, I was always taught to express myself with words, so the idea of translating a thought with a gesture, just didn’t inspire confidence. But now, having studied the topic a bit, I realize how intimidating this hyper-gesticulation thing can truly be.
Indians move their heads in ways that say “yes” and “no” at the same time, and messing this one up can get you a taxi ride, shot at, or laid – so gaffing here could have serious consequences.
In Iran, thumbs up means “Up Yours,” which, at present moment, means you’re either about to have your head cut off or to feel something nuclear headed your way.
In Brazil and Turkey, the “okay” sign is obscene, so when you signal your approval of a recent wax job or morning brew, don’t be surprised when Lucia or Yağız kicks your ass.
In Greece, putting up a “talk to the hand” sign is called a “moutza” and will get you chased from the nation. Same goes for Korea and Pakistan, so I’d suggest putting your hand in your pockets there – by the way, hands in the pockets in the US means you have something to hide or you’re a sexual deviant, so cheers!
Did you know, in Britain, the phrase “I’m stuffed” means “I just had sex.” I’m horrified no one told me that before I ate at the buffet. All I know is there are gonna be some curious Brits when they hear what I have planned for the Thanksgiving turkey this year.
OK, to my point. There are a lot of cultural idiosyncrasies that can annoy you – people slurping their food and closing in on your personal space and talking loudly enough to be heard three nations away. But maybe we shouldn’t judge them so venomously. After all, our open-armed hugs and aversion to toplessness and uncomfortableness around swordplay, probably seem just as curious to the greater world.
I’m just saying we could all be a little more accommodating about this stuff. After all, how boring would life be if everyone was the same!