Sunday, October 14, 2012

Stunned into silence

I was talking with my soccer buddy Francesco about the common practice of Italians using their arms and hands when talking.  He related this story:

Visiting from Italy before attaining his current position at Harvard, he had gone to Arizona to do a guest lecture.  After a few minutes, a student in the front row interrupted the talk.  She said, "Professor, would you stop moving your arms so much?  Your hands are blocking your mouth.  I am hard of hearing, and I need to be able to see your lips to understand what you are saying."

Francesco reported, "I was stunned by the request.  I had no idea how I could talk!"

1 comment:

Istvan said...

This is a great example for recognizing the importance of cross-cultural differences in communication. Italian culture is a high context culture whereas American culture is a low context culture. According to Edward T. Hall, high and low context refers to how people interact and communicate with other members of their culture. In high-context cultures, most of the information is in the physical context or internalized in the person. People value indirect verbal interaction and they are more able to read non-verbal expressions. On the contrary, people in low-context cultures communicate directly and explicitly and they rely on verbal communication. In low-context communication, almost all information is contained in the code of the verbal message. The Italians’ extensive use of gestures is an indication of their high context culture and it is absolutely understandable if Francesco found it difficult to comfortably manage the information without his gestures and gesticulation. On the other hand, it is also absolutely understandable that due to her hearing difficulties the student needed to exclusively focus on the visual-verbal information, in which she was apparently distracted by the non-verbal expressions.