Living in a foreign culture can be exciting, but it can also be confusing. A group of Americans who taught English in other countries recently discussed their experiences. They decided that miscommunications were always possible, even over something as simple as “yes” or “no”.
On the first day in Micronesia, Lisa thought people were ignoring her requests. The day was hot, and she needed a cold drink. She went into a store and asked, “Do you have cold drinks?” The woman there didn’t say anything. Lisa rephrased the question. Still the woman said nothing. Lisa gave up and left the store. She later learned that the woman had answered her: She had raised her eyebrows, which in Micronesia means “yes”.
This reminded Jan of an experience she had in Bulgaria. She had gone to a restaurant that was known for its stuffed cabbage. She asked the waiter, “Do you have stuffed cabbage today?” He nodded his head. Jan eagerly waited, but the cabbage never came. In that country, a nod means “no”.
Tom had the similar problem when he arrived in India. After explaining something in class, he asked his students if they understood. They responded with many different nods and shakes of the head. He assumed some people had not understood, so he explained again. When he asked again if they understood, they did the same thing. He soon found out that his students did understand. In India, people nod and shake their heads in different ways depending on where they come from. You have to know where a person is from to understand if they are indicating “yes” or “no”.