Let us put "JOY" in your travel!
Eye contact may be one of the most subtle forms of social interaction, but it should never be underestimated.
If you are travelling or planning a trip, it is something that you need to be particularly aware of – as something which is normal social behaviour at home, may not be in another culture.
The UK, USA, Australia and Western Europe all have fairly similar social expectations of when and where eye contact is appropriate… which is most of the time!
Eye contact is expected in Western culture, it is a basic essential to a social interaction which shows a person’s interest and engagement with your conversation.
In Western cultures eyes are considered to show the central point of a person’s focus. So if somebody doesn’t give any eye contact during a conversation, it may be considered insulting. Many people would take this to mean that they weren’t interested, and take their wandering eyes as a sign of their distraction.
In other, more formal, circumstances in Western cultures a lack of eye contact can be seen in another way. For example, in an interview situation, strong eye contact by the interviewee is seen as a sign of self-belief, whereas a lack of eye contact is seen as a lack of confidence.
Eye contact is less common, and considered less appropriate than in Western cultures. There are strict gender rules, whereby women should not make too much eye contact with men as it could be misconstrued as a romantic interest.
Intense eye contact is often a method used to show sincerity. Long, strong eye contact can mean ‘believe me, I’m telling you the truth’.
Asian cultures place great importance on respect. Hierarchies are much more visible in their society than in Western cultures, and their social behaviors mirror this.
In countries such as China and Japan, eye contact is not considered an essential to social interaction, instead it is often considered inappropriate. In such an authoritarian culture, it is believed that subordinates shouldn’t make steady eye contact with their superiors.
For example, students are discouraged from making eye contact with their professors, as it can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect. Similarly a daughter will point her eyes downwards when her father is speaking to her, as a sign of politeness and respect.
African and Latin American Cultures
Many African and Latin American cultures, while unique in many ways, remain strong hierarchical societies. In many circumstances intense eye contact is seen as aggressive, confrontational and extremely disrespectful.
Eye contact is so subtly ingrained into every culture that it is something which is rarely even considered before travelling abroad.
Westerner’s use of eye contact could be deemed inappropriate, and even disrespectful, in many other cultures – so make sure you learn the use of eye contact and body language before you jet off!