Overcompensating

November 12, 2008 By: erik Category: Geeky, Musings, Stuff I Found 147 views

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I am really enjoying this book I’m currently reading, especially the parts about visiting and fitting in to foreign cultures.

One of the major differences imposed by Display Rules is the degree of ‘dampening’ of particular actions that occurs from region to region. In some cultures it may be usual to underplay the smile, even when genuinely happy. If we meet a person from such an ‘inscrutable’ culture, we may imagine that we are observing a Shortfall Signal indicating deceit, when in reality we are witnessing a genuine but ‘damped’ display. This kind of problem can set up unconscious confusions in our dealings with foreigners, over and above verbal language difficulties. This is particularly true of tourists who for most of their lives have stayed strictly within their own social group and who then go abroad for a short holiday. If you watch the faces of such people when engaged in conversation with their foreign hosts, you will detect a curious phenomenon. Realizing that they have lost the subtle nuances of their home-town interactions, they avoid the danger of accidental and unintended Shortfall Signaling by employing a device that is both crude and effective: they over-exaggerate everything. They not only talk more loudly and laugh more noisily, but they also smile more intensely, nod more vigorously and generally overplay their friendly gestures. Since they do not have time to learn the local non-verbal ‘dialect’, they intuitively feel that this is the safest way to behave. But to over-exaggerate a visual signal can be as transparently artificial as to underplay it.

– Desmond Morris, Peoplewatching.
 
  • http://simonlitton.wordpress.com simon

    Ahh, so that’s why American tourists are so loud ;-)

  • http://erik-rasmussen.com/blog Betsy

    I am well acquainted with the phenomenon of speaking louder and slower to people who don’t speak my language. I try hard not to do so when non-English speaking customers come into my store but it’s hard not to. I had never been on the receiving end until our first meeting with Marga’s parents two years ago. I noticed that her dad was trying really hard to get us to understand Spanish by speaking loudly and slowly. Alas it didn’t work but I appreciated his efforts.

  • http://www.hillbillyplease.com/blog/ jane

    Such a wonderful book. I’m glad you’re enjoying it and not at all surprised.

    Oh, wait. I mean:

    SUCH…A…WON…DER…FUL…BOOK…. I’M…GLAD…YOU’RE…EN…JOY…ING …IT…AND…NOT…AT…ALL…SUR…PRISED.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/aparejador/3020510786/ Raytibbitts

    Back in the U.S. there were times that I ran into people who were new to speaking English, and I perceived that they were having trouble understanding me.
    Almost without realizing this I would habitually switch to Spanish, often worsening an already uncomfortable situation.

    The time I was most embarrassed was at a gas station near Atlanta, and the woman at the counter, who I knew FULL-WELL was not a Spanish speaker, and who had a red dot in the middle of her forehead, but I still began to speak in Spanish to her. As the words left my mouth, I realized I didn’t want to be speaking in Spanish, but I couldn’t help it. I even stopped, in mid-sentence, paused in awkward silence, and then attempted to start over in English, only to have Spanish come out again. It was like my Spanish brain had taken over my mouth.

    The person BEHIND me in line stepped towards the counter, and said, “I think the Mexican’s trying to ask how much the Little Debbie Snack costs.”
    The Lady smiled, nodded and said, “A buck forty-five for each pair.” – with a perfect SOUTHERN accent, with no hint of any Indian dialect.
    I paid for my gas, and my snack, and left – all without uttering another word.
    I was Mexican for the rest of the afternoon.