Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Open Cafe Rzeszow 24.07.2019
By: Simone Bates

This week Open Cafe had a special guest host, Simone Bates, one of INPRO’s EVS volunteers.

Body language was my choice of topic which sprang from some of my initial appreciations of the differences between my own gestures and those of other cultures. However, the idea also touched on something that every participant could relate to: the cultural faux pas. The moment in which one person’s cultural norms clash with another’s. While leading to a deeper understanding of culture, this would also act like a bridge to provide a space where everybody could  be involved.

During the Open Cafe we also talked about evolutionary psychology. This is the notion that we as humans have stored information on how to read people from years of evolution. This theory was applied to how the whole session was structured including the group activities. These were aimed both to explore the topic and build trust that would later act as a bedrock to the discussion questions part. The feedback I received about the initial activities in groups was that the participants appreciated the fact that they had an opportunity to connect with each other.

As part of the initial introductory games participants had to show how much space they would be comfortable leaving between each other in different scenarios, including going to the doctor’s. This allowed for reflection on what kind of distance each person felt was necessary to maintain depending on the social context. For example, in the situation in which you at talking to a friend you may stand much closer to each other. After this they were given situations to act out in their groups. Furthermore, they were told to mime the scenes using over dramatized gestures. This added to the stimuli for thinking about how body language constitutes a large part of communication.

In the second half of the event, we played a group energizer rock, paper scissors. This was a good idea as it welcomed the participants to the second part with renewed energy. Afterwards, the teams did a quiz where they had to guess which types of body language were considered acceptable in different countries around the world. The group then got together to discuss the answers and their thoughts. One of the interesting questions was what tugging at the earlobes referred to in Portugal. Everybody had a different idea of what the gesture could mean but none of them knew what it was!

Following this discussion, we moved on to thinking about our thoughts on body language. There were many interesting observations expressed. Firstly, there was a conversation about the way in which men greet other men with a handshake in Italy, Poland and Kazakhstan but it that it would be considered rude to shake a woman’s hand. This led to a debate about why that may be the case and answers included that in some countries the greeting shows respect for the other person and ‘brotherhood’. As a result, people began questioning why there is not a greeting for woman to show sisterhood.

We also discussed the levels of intimacy demonstrated through greeting. In Poland it seems that a kiss on the cheek greeting happens only between family members, as we found out from some of our Polish participants. However, in France, depending on the region, people may kiss three or four times on the cheeks when meeting strangers.

We ended the evening with a short feedback session. Participants were asked how the knowledge presented during the event could be useful and if they felt the understanding of cultural differences could lead to better relationships between people of different cultural backgrounds. I feel that the session did meet its objectives which included exploring the various ways of expression through body language and the ways they can make us more culturally aware. Thank you all for coming!