Body language and cultural differences

One of the most amazing spectacles provided by Donald Trump is his body language. I have never seen anything quite like it. We all recall President Macron’s experiences:

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See also The Awkward Body Language of Donald Trump.

Sacred texts have received less scrupulous analysis than Trump’s foreign-leader handshakes, his presidential-debate snorts (remember those?) and the reactions — aghast, awe-struck, puzzled, peeved — of those who bump up against (or happen to be married to) him.

It just may be that this is relevant to things happening lately. The whole area of the physical in cross-cultural communication is one business people and teachers of English soon encounter. It can be fascinating and often far more important than we at first realise. See 20 Cultural Mistakes to Avoid in Korea.

Here is an amusing example from my own experience. I took this photo in a Surry Hills pub in 1990.

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At the time I was working in an English Language college. Rui, on the left, was a scientist from China; Mr Kim, on the right, had been in the Korean military. Great guys, both of them. The Korean cultural habit of grabbing the leg of a companion in order to show friendliness is clearly not a Chinese custom. The photo is not a set-up! I saw what was going on and snapped it for my own amusement, and later shared it with the two in the pic, who also found it amusing…

This post is very honest and interesting. I haven’t been to Korea, but back in 1990 I did encounter what can happen if a Korean feels he/she has lost face. I wonder if Donald Trump ever takes such things into account? Maybe he does….

Every culture has social cues and norms that are implicitly understood.  Korea has more of those than the West.  Westerners, in comparison to Koreans, are brutally direct, particularly in the workplace, and that applies to Americans most specifically.  Koreans have no problem telling you that you look like a fat ass or that your face is melting due to old age/lack of plastic surgery, but they will generally skirt the issues at work or really when anything is important.  You’re just expected to understand, which makes being a newbie here more than a bit difficult at times.  By contrast, I feel that expectations in the West are more direct, which is helpful when you don’t really know the expectations in the first place.

Many foreigners here are left with the impression that Koreans expect them to be mind readers.  This is sort of true.  They expect the same of Koreans, but it is marginally easier when you’re at least dealing with your own culture.  The lack of planning and subtle social cues that Koreans drop don’t really do the job for most Westerners.  The Koreans can’t understand why the foreigner didn’t pick up what to them amounts to an obvious cue, and the poor little waeguk ends up thinking that Koreans are insane, never mind disorganized flounders who can’t tell up from down.  Which is kind of true sometimes.

For my part, I’ve gotten used to many of the aspects of “face” and trying to save it in Korea.  I’ve learned to pick up on a lot of the Korean social cues.  I can read between the lines when my boss says certain things.  “Student A is taking a break” means “Student A quit and probably won’t be back.”  Sometimes the student is legitimately on a break, but most of the time, they never reappear….