Cultural Communication
Cultural communication differences
Following are some general communication
and language guidelines you may find
helpful when interacting with people from
different regions of the world. However, keep
in mind that individuals are different; never
make assumptions based on someone’s
ethnic origin.
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Areas of Misunderstanding:
Broadly speaking, body language can be
divided into the following categories:
Facial expressions
Eye contact
Use of space
Sounds and other actions
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Some cultures, particularly in the middle
east, may touch once or not at all, while
North Americans could touch each other
between two and four times an hour,
according to some researchers.
People from the United Kingdom, certain
parts of Northern Europe and Asia touch far
less, while in France and Italy people tend to
touch far more frequently.
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Personal space exercise
Pick a partner and stand opposite them as if
you were about to have a conversation
Stand within 1 and a half feet of each other
and talk – are you comfortable?
Move slowly back until you feel comfortable
– and check your distance
Now continue back past 10-12 feet – is this
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Personal Space
An individual's need for personal space varies from
culture to culture. In the Middle East, people of the
same sex stand much closer to each other than
North Americans and Europeans, while people of
the opposite sex stand much further apart.
Japanese men stand four or five feet apart when
having a discussion. Europeans and North
Americans would probably regard having a
conversation at this distance rather odd.
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The thumbs up sign has positive connotations in the UK and US
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In Iran and Spain the 'thumbs up' sign is considered obscene
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The 'okay' sign is obscene in Greece, parts of Eastern Europe
and Latin America. It could also mean 'worthless' or 'zero' in
France. In Japan, this means “money”.
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Moving the head from
side to side could
indicate agreement in
Asia, whereas
elsewhere in the world
a similar shaking of the
head means the
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How to be rude without realising
Sit with the soles of your shoes showing.
In many cultures this sends a rude message.
In Thailand, Japan and France as well as
countries of the Middle and Near East
showing the soles of the feet demonstrates
disrespect. You are exposing the lowest and
dirtiest part of your body so this is insulting.
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How to be rude without realising
Pass an item to someone with one hand.
In Japan this is very rude. Even a very small
item such as a pencil must be passed with
two hands. In many Middle and Far Eastern
countries it is rude to pass something with
your left hand which is considered “unclean.”
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How to be rude without realising
Wave hand with the palm facing outward to
greet someone.
In Europe, waving the hand back and forth
can mean “No.” This is also a serious insult
in Nigeria if the hand is too close to another
person’s face.
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True or False
The following expressions are universal
Disgust, contempt
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True or False
Eye contact is a universal sign of respect
and attention
Staring is always rude
Lowering eyes is a sign of respect in all
Russians have the most control over their
facial expressions and Americans the least
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Afro-Caribbean people
Communication tips
While in Western cultures eye contact is
taken to mean honesty, in some Caribbean
cultures people avoid eye contact as it is
considered disrespectful and rude.
Some African cultures have a longer look
time, which people from Western cultures
may interpret as a stare.
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Asian people
Communication tips
While in Western cultures, eye contact is
interpreted as a sign of honesty, in some Asian
cultures people tend to avoid eye contact as it is
considered disrespectful and rude.
Some Asian women may find it difficult to converse
with males, particularly when subjects of a
personal nature are being discussed.
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Chinese people
Communication tips
Some Chinese people nod or bow slightly
when greeting another person. A handshake
is also acceptable.
Some Chinese people do not like to be
touched by people they don’t know. A smile
is preferred to a pat on the back or similar
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British People
What about British people?
What do international students need to know
about us?
Do we know this about ourselves?
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Personal Space and British people
British people like a lot of space around them.
They tend not to make physical contact of any
kind with strangers and feel very
uncomfortable if anyone stands too close to
them. They will instinctively draw away if
anyone comes too close.
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Personal space
Whenever I travelled on a bus in UK the British
person next to me would draw away from me
as if they were afraid of catching a disease
or of the colour rubbing off my skin.’
(Kenyan student)
‘When I travelled on a train from Nairobi to
Mombasa, a woman sat right next to me, her
body touching mine. I was very nervous as I
thought she must be making a sexual
(British woman in Kenya)
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The indirect British
In making polite requests, British people tend
to use very indirect language, using the
conditional tense and negatives.
For instance, ‘I don’t suppose you could open
the window, could you?’ rather than ‘Please
open the window.’
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British people never get to the point. They go
around this way and that way, using twenty
words where three would do. It´s really hard
to communicate with them.´ (Israeli student)
`Some nationalities do not always seem very
polite; `I want this´ or `I want that´, no smiles
nor a please nor a thank you´.
(British University Official)
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Some students say that British people
smile a lot, compared to many national
groups – often for no particular reason.
The British smile as a greeting, smile when
asking for something, smile on receiving it.
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‘The British are so insincere. They smile
even when they are not happy or pleased to
see you. One woman smiled at me every
time we passed each other and I thought she
really liked me. So I asked her to come out
with me and she refused. She was leading
me on and then turned me down’
(A male overseas student)
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Naming systems
Afro-Caribbean names
The vast majority of Afro-Caribbean names conform to the
traditional British pattern.
Black Africans may adhere to one of a variety of naming
structures. Generally, both men and women have up to
four personal names, which may be shortened or
lengthened. Here are some examples:
Adeyemisi (female) – Ade, Adeyemi, Yemi, Yemisi
Adeyetunde (male) – Ade, Yetunde, Tunde, Adetunde
Black African women tend to keep their own name on
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Chinese names
Traditionally, Chinese names are made up of
a family name followed by a personal name.
Family name
Personal name
Despite usually coming first, the family name should be
regarded as the equivalent of the traditional British
One word of warning, though: some Chinese have changed their names so that the
family name comes after their personal name. So how do you know which is
which? Well, it’s usually pretty easy because personal names tend to be
hyphenated. However, if neither of the names are hyphenated, then it’s always
best to ask the person how they wish to be addressed.
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Hindu names
Hindu names have up to three components:
Personal name
Middle name
Family name
Hindu women generally take on their husband’s family name
when they get married. However, some Hindus have
dropped their family name in rejection of the caste system.
In this case, their middle name should be regarded as their
‘surname’, which may mean that married couples have
different last names.
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Muslim names (Male)
Male Muslim names may have up to three components:
A personal name and a religious name, in either order,
possibly followed by a hereditary name.
Personal (1st/2nd)
Religious (1st/2nd) Hereditary
A Muslim should never be addressed by his religious name
alone – it would be the equivalent of calling a Christian
Christ or God
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Muslim names (female)
Female Muslim names usually have just two components:
A personal name, followed by either a titular name or second
personal name, which is the equivalent of the traditional
British surname.
This means that married Muslims often have different last
names, though some women do take their husband’s
hereditary name upon marriage in this country.
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Sikh names
Sikh names have up to three components:
A gender-neutral personal name, followed by a religious
designation – Singh for males, Kaur for females - which in
some cases is followed by a family name.
Many married Sikhs may have different last names.
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Diversity is the one true thing we all have
in common. Celebrate it every day.
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Useful information for Year 2 students.