Melissa Csikszentmihályi

Greenpeace

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What does the speed of the acquisition of foreign cultural gestures reveal in one's personality?

I am wondering what does it really mean that someone picks up gestures of their non-native culture very slowly while others quite easily in a foreign country. Someone told me that in the US people serve themselves as guests in the kitchen, in India people shake their heads in a way a non-indian might not know wether it is 'yes' or 'no'. Still, someone gets the hang very fast, others simply continue behaving as they did at home. Does it mean the weakness of the personality, on the contrary flexibility or something else?

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    Aug 15 2011: I'd say IGNORANCE is at the core of it all.and its never bliss...but then again, there are nations who are just not bothered by other nations, period! and then thinking that ones culture or language is the be all and end all...I speak 6 languages, because if you live in a dynamic country as I mine, I want to be able to converse with anyone wherever I go and it shows the next person that you know that they are "present", that you "hear" them and you acknowledge them in a way... I travel to Swaziland, I can speak their language, I go to Botswana, I can speak their language and when one travels to other countries its just common sense to at least learn the basic language, their culture & values.....when a female travels to Saudi Arabia for instance, they know that they have to cover up, its their country, their culture, respect it! and so it goes...
  • Aug 18 2011: Let's go off on a hypothetical tangent here for a bit... We have Mr. "X". Mr. "X" is an European (just picked a continent at random, it doesn't really matter) native.

    Mr. "X" has to go to Australia for work-related reasons. While staying there he doesn't actively interact with the Australian natives much, and as a result he barely picks up any of native culture and their gestures.

    Mr. "X" decides to go back to Australia 10 years later, and immediately picks up the native culture because he is simply there for a relaxing vacation. So, he is able to actively interact with the people living there.

    Despite having essentially the same personality, Mr. X acquires the native culture much faster the second time simply because of ulterior variables.
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    Long story, short... It's hard to say what the speed of acquisition says about one's personality, because there can be so many other variables. Personality may have little or nothing to do with the speed of acquisition for all I know.
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    Aug 13 2011: Without expertise in this area, I can only make a conjecture that the decision to follow the old dictum "When in Rome, do as the Roman's do" would have a different explanation in terms of personality or values than a tendency to pick up cultural gestures without even being aware of it.
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    Aug 6 2011: Great. I often pick up people's accents when speaking to them - and probably some of their mannerisms, though until this very moment I hadn't really thought about it. It's bad enough that I suddenly hear myself using their intonations and hope like hell they don't think I am mocking them, now I'm going to have to pay attention to my gestures as well.

    I'm pretty sure small things like accents and posture is simply a form of (advanced?) mirroring, whereas something like "not tasting while cooking" or "eating with the correct hand" usually requires some conscious decision to follow the custom (and sometimes forcing the awareness to stay active in the brain and not lapse). Mirroring happens within and across culture - it is simply a product of two people attuning to each other. Learned cultural differences is a conscious willingness to immerse oneself in the experience or to make the other person comfortable.

    (I was only briefly in India and I did not cook while I was there and my East Indian friends are Indo-Canadian and I cannot even recall whether I have seen them taste the food or not while cooking - and they are not going to thank you for causing me to stare at them next time I am over at any of their houses ;-).
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    Aug 4 2011: Gesture is intricately aligned with speach. In fact, when people have strokes, they also lose the ability to make their hand gestures. It often happens that when they are healing they get the gestures back first. As to your question about what it means- I think it is possible that it means that their mirror neurons of their brains are in good working order. Speed of processing is also a good indicator of intelligence. Picking up particular gestures may have to do with how deeply imbedded the original cultural ones are, though. It might be easier to pick up one that is not used in your culture rather than replace one that is (ie- harder to change from nodding to shaking).
  • Aug 3 2011: Without an accurate and stringent operationalization of the variable: if I may quote "speed of the acquisition of foreign cultural gestures", it probably reveals nothing, dear! Scientists, psychologists in particular, have spent decades and decades to find and create ways to assess human's personality. Up until now, even the most successful and famous personality inventories, are not foolproof as an assessment of personality. These test takes hours for participant to complete, and then hours and hours for the assessor to decode them, analyse the results to finally, with great care and caution, deliver an inconclusive but likely description of personality. One example of such tests is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which was and has been held in high regard among personality assessments (I believe the current version is MMPI-2-RF). Compare to these rigorous assessment tools, an intuitive look at how well a person reacts to or acquires cultural gestures in a specific situation is unlikely to reveal much about that person's characteristics.

    When we take into account the numerous intermingled factors of the psychosocial circumstances, the exhibited behaviors become too erratic to be given a satisfiable explanation. How could we say someone has a weak personality if he isn't as quick to comprehend and respond to a cultural gesture that is too strange for him/her to imitate or understand as a foreigner? Should a person with a strong personality say bye bye to all of his/her clothing (except a loincloth if he/she has one) within seconds if they visit a tribal society in which loincloths are the revered norms? It's just too soon to come to a conclusion and a judgement.

    Why not just take it easy and instead veer in the society's fundamental personality trait that almost everyone is proficient at judging: Friendliness. Just look at the interpersonal proximity, communication tone, physical contact, etc... and Voila! You have just revealed Friendliness!
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    Aug 3 2011: Hello again, Melissa!

    That's interesting.. I've lived in India for 7 years, and never noticed that as a cultural gesture. I've always said Namaste-ji as greetings with folded hands and a bow.

    The cooking habit is really amazing though. I taste my food every five minutes or so, and it's never quite right. It would be disastrous if I were to cook without tasting it.
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    Aug 2 2011: Melissa, perhaps a big, generous and caring heart - an earth citizen, a global citizen.

    I think that it is sometimes a lot easier to deliver our great powers to love, hope and trust in art, music and gestures more than mere words can.
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      Aug 13 2011: "generous and caring heart - an earth citizen, a global citizen"
      and I would add- RESPECT! I will not point fingers, but when I've traveled, I've noticed that more powerful, and bigger nations don't pay so much attention to other peoples customs, they just continue their way...
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        Aug 13 2011: Marija, yes respect based on our true identities. http://Bit.Ly/KeyPower

        (Side note, I like your name is it the same as Maria? In English language it sound like the powerful version of Maria, much like Krisztian for real Christians. (:>)
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          Aug 13 2011: Thank you :) It does sound like Maria, just with a longer first "a". I never liked it though :P
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        Aug 14 2011: Sorry to hear you never liked it. It's great to know that what really defines us is in the great power of our hearts to care and in the resilient power of our minds to understand.

        I lovely agree with you that showing respect is one of the foundational hallmark of our greatness. (:>)
  • Aug 25 2011: I don't think the rate of assimilation of cultural gestures is an indicator as to strength or weakness in a personality. I think it has more to do with talent. Just like there are good actors and bad actors, some people are good at entering a culture, observing the customs or gestures, and then replicating them. I'm from the US, and lived in Japan for two years. Some of the things I saw the Japanese people do didn't make sense, but I did it anyway. After a while it just became natural, and I didn't think twice about it. Just like some people are good at learning languages, mathematics, or other things, I think some people are naturally good at embracing cultures. I will admit though, that I don't think that's one of my best talents. I did have homesickness, and I think that's normal, too.
  • Aug 23 2011: It's called Cultural Shock .

    Everyone experiences culture shock in different ways, at different times and to different degrees. Since you will be spending a lot of your time with other Americans, the culture shock you should expect would be minimal compared to someone who is going to live with a Swiss host family and attend a Swiss university without any other Americans around.

    * Usually the cultural adjustment process follows a certain pattern. At first, you will be excited about going to Europe and starting a new adventure. When you first arrive, everything will appear new and exciting. However, after some time, you may start to feel homesick and question why the Swiss (or Italians or French) do things differently than Americans do. You may even become irritated with these differences. However, you will eventually get used to this new way of life. And before you know it, you will be getting excited about the return home to your family and friends.

    * An orientation will be provided for you upon arrival to the Center. This orientation will include information regarding culture shock and how to cope with it. In addition, the Student Affairs Coordinator is available to assist students with the cultural adjustment process.
  • Aug 22 2011: I would think this has a great deal to do with how your brain subconsciously learns and recalls certain information better than the way your conscious brain does. Some things will always be better when you stop thinking about it and use your instincts. I would say this type of adaptable person would be the type to pick up the cultural nuances easier.
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    Aug 22 2011: Political correctness is a cross-cultural shoot in the foot.

    I fail to see any sign of intelligence in any of those little inconsequential traditional details.

    Just be your freakin' self

    If you don't know how, start remembering when you were 3 or 4 years old.

    You where a genius at that time.

    Same time before the cultural brainwash.

    Brainwash is too strong?

    ok, 'cultural formatting' then

    unformat yourself.

    Teach others to do the same
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    Aug 18 2011: After a year in Thailand it became instinctive to keep both feet planted on the floor (no crossed legs!), never to touch a person on the shoulders or -- worse -- the head, and never to stare directly into the face of a stranger.

    It was very disturbing to move to England and then to Spain. (I still intensely dislike embracing another male or doing the double-kiss-on-the-cheek thing....). Once imprinted, behaviors become imbedded, and they get linked to emotions. I still find myself, decades later, getting an uncomfortable feeling when the soles of my feet are showing. It takes a few seconds to remember that it's OK now.....
  • Aug 18 2011: I see some comments about not tasting the food while it is being cooked, in India. It is true that some very orthodox brahmins have this culture, but they are a small minority. The rest of us Indians, will taste the food when it is being cooked, however, we will not drop the spoon we tasted the food with back into the food. We are a predominantly hot country, practices like this keep our food fresher longer. These practices over time become customs.
  • Aug 13 2011: The key is to observe, give a full attention to our new social environment. Than make friends as many as possible.
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    Aug 7 2011: The University of Modern Forest
    An ant joined to learn music.
    A Lion joined to learn flying
    A vulture joined to learn hygienic cooking
    After six months course they all understood that learning is a personal individual experience to know who they really are
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    Aug 7 2011: 60-70% communication is done through body language or non verbal signs / behavior, many research are there about it. We spent lot of effort to learn the foreign language & mostly tend to ignore that 60-70%. So it is understandable how much we can connect with one, face to face if we only depend on verbal language which serves only 30-40% of communication.

    Even when we laern the language we can't master the different dilects of that particular lanuguage, where as body language seldom has any variation with in the same culture or country.

    "Does it mean the weakness of the personality or just flexibility or something else"? by stating like this
    don't understand why you think it understanding body language would ever be an weakness of personality? Can you please elaborate whats your thoughts behind this thinking ?

    To me connecting with people is one of the most important thing humanity can do at first point , to minimize all differences to build a better world. And communication is the most important way of connecting with people , in which body laguage has got major stake. So it makes one's personality more adaptable , receptive and powerful.
  • Aug 6 2011: What you said is quite humorous esp when you shake your head when talking to Indians. :D
    I think cultures are contagious too. This shows we humans are very adaptable & versatile as
    long as our ego does not come in our way.
  • Aug 5 2011: In my opinion, the speed at which people adjust to foreign culture speaks great bands about how flexible that person is mentally, or how rigid his/her opinion of the status quo is. To my experience, intelligent, mentally flexible and liberal people tend to be faster when it comes to adopting foreign mannerisms than conservative people.
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    Aug 3 2011: Hi Melissa!
    I agree with Melinda. The more visually observant you are, the faster you will pick up foreign gestures.However, I also think that some people are simply more enthusiastic about cultural differences and like to be "flexible" with their own behavior, while others PREFER to remain the same. In other words, some like the diversity of their cultural identity, while others want to preserve their existing identity.

    When I was studying in India, I heard from many other international students that they would not do certain things because they were not "Indian." Some just refuse to do anything that can blur the boundary of their cultural identity, and it's hard to define that as a personal trait. Hm... Stubbornness maybe?
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        Aug 3 2011: Hi Melissa!

        Well.. The only explanation for "subconscious" acquisition of cultural gestures would be that we are inherently "adaptive." We copy the behaviors of the surrounding people to assimilate into their society, and depending on your personality, this rate of adaptation can be faster or slower. Also, this can be done either deliberately or instinctively. We follow the trend of the majority so as not to be ostracized, and that is naturally built in our system.

        On a different note, I can't fully grasp why you would use "not greeting each other in buildings" and "not tasting food while cooking" as examples of "cultural" behaviors. Which culture promotes such behaviors?
  • Aug 2 2011: I'm much more practical than Joe (see other comment). I would say that some people are simply not visually observant--they just don't pay attention to gestures or movements. And if they don't even notice them, they certainly aren't going to wonder about them or try to learn them. That might explain why they are so slow to learn non-verbal cues; on the other hand, some people may not speak the language well (or at all) but they want to fit in to the new culture in as much as they can, so they learn what a particular tilt of the head or hand gesture means. Of course there is big chance of confusion and doing the wrong thing, but one has to be brave in many ways to learn a new culture.