American in Spain


November 12, 2008

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.