Japanese cultures use an indirect method when communicating while African Americans use a more direct form of dialect. The Japanese are known to be more passive leaving their message to be interpreted. Meanwhile, African Americans tend to be somewhat more aggressive and mean exactly what they are saying when communicating. In this essay we will discuss and explore the differences in these two cultures with specifics on the appropriateness of eye contact. What is considered as respect to one culture can easily be misinterpreted as disrespect to another. Often time’s ethnocentrism can lead to controversy amongst different cultural backgrounds. The feelings of what is the norm in one culture can really be looked upon as strange, weird, unusual or even wrong to some. Having a thorough knowledge and understanding of different practices can alleviate feelings of disrespect and superiority.
Japanese businessmen avoiding eye contact during a meeting is apparently a cultural acceptance in Japan. It is very normal not to look at an individual in the eyes. It’s simply not habitual to make direct eye contact in their culture. “In fact, for some people, looking directly in the eyes could be considered rude and it could make them feel uncomfortable. And depending on the context of the relationship, it may demonstrate a challenge to authority or even anger” (ctuonline, 2013). If Japanese are scolded or criticized the individual will look down and not make any eye contact. Therefore, during a business meeting, because of social habit, awkwardness and appreciation the Japanese businessmen avoid making any eye contact.
My process of adjusting or expanding my own perspective to better understand this behavior of avoiding eye contact is very simple. Due to already being aware of this practice and experienced it firsthand makes this practice easily respectable for me. I have had neighbors as well as coworkers from the Japanese ethnicity who wouldn’t make eye contact when greeting or interacting with others. My neighbors would smile, make very brief eye contact when we conversed, but never would make direct eye contact. On the other hand, their two daughters who attend high school with my son would engage more in making eye contact during conversation. This is just a sign of respect mainly in their culture and a tradition. “Japan is a highly structured and traditional society and great importance is placed on loyalty, politeness, respect, courtesy…” (Ediplomat, 2013).
In my culture when meeting someone or interacting with anyone regardless of whether it is formal or informal or even when conducting business or pleasure, it is customary to make and maintain direct eye contact as much as possible which is totally different from the Japanese culture. This is considered as being respectful in my culture because when making eye contact with an individual when conversing, it is a sign of respect because you are acknowledging that individuals presence as well as acknowledging what the person is saying. To not make eye contact in my culture is considered as rude and disrespectful because it gives off the impression that you are not sincere or open minded to anything that the individual is saying. It also can come across as you not being interested in what the other person is saying and not being honest or truthful.
Society has their own label of stereotypes within the African American culture which I strongly disagree with to an extent on some things simply due to the fact that those stereotypes are not portrayed or mimicked in my culture. According to African American Culture (2013), “The black man doesn’t make eye contact with those in authority and the children are raised to not look elders in the eye when being spoken to.” That may have been true in the past but today, just as I was raised, I instruct my kids to look people in the eye when communicating because not only is it respectful but it shows self-confidence and high self-esteem as well as not being intimidated by the person you are conversing with.
Apparently the driving forces that are at play with these practices are tradition and what the norm is in the Japanese and African American culture. The Japanese are more this way regarding eye contact based upon social statuses. The hierarchy of social classes is adhered to more in their culture whereas in the African American culture, we tend to treat all with equal respect and expect the same in return regardless of status in society. As I stated in an earlier post, the way we act and behave is essential to how we succeed in life and interact with family, friends, and co-workers and people in general in society. We have to know as well as learn about the differences in individuals in order to interact with one another in a positive and productive manner. Based upon moral, ethical, cultural, values and religious beliefs, we have to understand that these aspects determine how we perceive certain situations in life as well as how we respond, react and deal with one another in society.
African American Culture. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.californiacollegeofpharmacy.org
Japan- Cultural Etiquette (2013). Retrieved from: http://www.ediplomat.com
Missionary and Transition of Modern Chinese Customs [PowerPoint presentation].
Retrieved from http://campus.ctuonline.edu/Pages/sendfile.aspx?