5 Communication Differences Between Eastern And Western Cultures

It is common for Eastern and Western cultures to communicate differently in everyday settings.

Between these two cultures, there are different patterns in speech, languages used, articulation techniques and emotional cues expressed.

At times stereotypical Eastern societies and Western societies express themselves in conflicting ways. Sometimes this can make doing business or socialising together challenging.

When I lived in Malaysia and Singapore, I got along with many of Asian background there. When I moved back to Australia, I realised people here have different mindsets and cultural values.

There’s much to be observed and learned from Eastern vs Western communication styles. That way you can understand cultural differences and minimise miscommunication, improving cross-cultural relationships.

Here are some key differences between Eastern and Western communication styles.

1.  High context vs low context

In high context cultures (a term coined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall), communication is often indirect and some things aren’t openly said. Low context cultures involves direct communication and thoughts are clearly articulated.

Eastern cultures are often high context cultures. Collectivism and ‘saving face’ is a big part of Asian cultures. Before speaking some Asians might choose their words carefully to avoid pointing out flaws, upsetting or offending others – protecting their image at the same time.

On the other hand Western cultures are low context cultures. Westerners tend to be more individualistic, say things upfront and want to succinctly get their point across.

This can explain why some Asians are stereotypically seen as quiet and submissive while Westerners loud and assertive.

At times there is hidden meaning behind words. For instance in some Asian workplaces, employees usually say ‘Yes’ to tasks they are unsure of and keep quiet, which can lead to miscommunication down the line.

Personally I like to say ‘Yes’ to any challenge, then right away ask and annoy others how to get things done – learn as I go along and get things done.

2. Speaking up

Westerners are more likely to speak up and say their mind. On the other hand, those in Asian countries are instinctively listen more.

When there are people in a team who exhibit both these traits, that can get in the way of teamwork. Some people might dominate over others, carrying the team or showing off.

A study by the University of New South Wales on a class of Singapore university students found the class was mainly silent. It also found the students feared being wrong when asking questions but ask targeted questions. Often East-Asian international students often adopt the silent-strategy to deal with the English language barrier in classes, and are eager to learn just like European students.

Again, this communicating behaviour can be attributed to ‘saving face’. In Asian cultures listening and letting others speak is a sign of respect.

As I wrote in Why are some Asians so quiet all the time, generally Asians listen to learn from others and aren’t always passive. Westerners speak up to generate discussion among everyone and therefore learn through discussing ideas.

3. Non-verbal communication

Eastern and Western cultures interpret non-verbal communication differently. Not all emotions are expressed universally across both cultures.

Maintaining eye contact means confidence and paying attention in Western cultures. In Asian cultures that is a sign of aggression and rudeness. A study on eye contact perception found Japanese cultures perceive others’ faces as angrier and more unapproachable compared to Finnish cultures.

Beckoning with hands is considered friendly in the West. Gesturing with the left hand is considered dirty and offensive in Middle Eastern cultures. Pointing is seen as rude in Malaysia.

Smiling at strangers in public is seen as friendly in Australia and the UK. In Asia, it’s strange to smile at strangers and a smile could be a cover-up for negative emotions.

Emotions are nuanced. Sometimes silence is consent, but other times silence is also not consent.

Spending part of my life in high-crime country Malaysia taught me being silent and sour-faced at strangers is for your own safety. You never know what attention you might invite being friendly with a stranger. I might be seen as impolite avoiding friendly Aussie strangers but to me safety always comes first.

4. Leadership

Hierarchical structures in Asian workplaces are common and obeying authority is key. In China, guanxi is important for developing good business relationships within various industries.

On the other hand there is more of a flatter level-playing field in the western corporate world. Sharing ideas openly is encouraged. Friday after-work drinks with colleagues and bosses is pretty common in Australia.

An academic review of Western and Chinese leadership models found over time there is a convergence of workplace styles in both cultures. Education and efficiency is valued across both cultures.

Having worked in many different roles and sectors over the years, I find most white Australian managers and executives like planning things out – drawn out months of consulting before projects get started. Sometimes it feels things take forever to get along yet alone get done in these settings.

Working with freelance clients from Asia is mostly an opposite experience. Their approach was to pay me right away before I did any work. That was nice but it made drawing up contracts at the start and gauging workload challenging – and later having to put up with changing project priorities.

5. Time

Both Eastern and Western cultures tend to regard punctuality with respect to different degrees.

Asian cultures have more of a stickler for things being on time. Showing up on time to work or an appointment is expected in Asia. In 2018 a Japanese railway company made a public apology when a train left its station 25 seconds early.

While in Germany things run on clockwork, Spain and France are more relaxed about time where deadlines are more flexible and there is time for nice wine and dine.

*  *  *

Not all of us will always get along. Sometimes it can be hard to see past our cultural values and see things from another’s point of view.

Sometimes someone’s communication style might rub off you all the time, making you annoyed.

While you might not always agree with someone’s cultural values, you can respect these values and different communication styles. You can always try to listen, let others speak and genuinely ask questions. You can avoid raising your voice, attacking opinions and asserting your opinion over others.

When managing conflict arising from different communication styles, sometimes you have to agree to disagree to different approaches and opinions and walk away.

As Plato said, ‘Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.’

How you communicate leaves an impression on others. More importantly how you communicate is a reflection of yourself.

Notably being civil to each other’s views might be easier face-to-face in person compared to online interactions. Research has shown online racial discrimination is increasing and online hate is constantly being directed at Asians on social media especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

It can be easy to hide behind a screen and express opinionated thoughts anonymously. When someone gives honest criticism face-to-face, they probably are really honest.

One time I was walking in the city and a white guy randomly yelled ‘Hey chink!’ in my face. He looked young, rugged and didn’t look sorry. As he walked away looking at me, I walked away looking ahead. I didn’t see the point in confrontation.

Almost all of the time there is no point in engaging with hate speech. Sometimes even the most opinionated people just want to get on with their day. And so do you. And so do I.

When you make genuine effort to communicate with someone of a different cultural background, there’s always a chance you’ll both get along.

Have you encountered different communication styles?

158 thoughts on “5 Communication Differences Between Eastern And Western Cultures

  1. How angry and outdated that guy was to shout at you in the street and awful that in this day and age, you have to hear such a comment when minding your own business. I am sure he would not like being shouted to in the street.
    It was very interesting reading about the different communication styles and wonderful that you can bridge the various cultures in understanding both.
    Danish folks are notoriously critical of anyone who runs late – as they see it as disrespectful of their time. Australians are notoriously late for almost everything! Maybe they will be influenced to change this thinking in the future. I have Danish friends that call me on the appointed time to say where are you and I am usually about to greet them – but now I know how they are I tend to arrive five minutes earlier just to make sure!
    I love the Plato quote – I think it and the discussion would make a great addition to our book (albeit in an abridged form) if you would like to include it.

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    • That is interesting you say it is outdated the guy was shouting me. Very creative description and I agree with that sentiment. Yes, in this day and age it is surprising to hear a racist comment when you are not even aware that person is around. Recently I had another similar incident, and I am sure this happens elsewhere all the time too. It’s the kind of communication where it’s very hard to get through to the other person, if not almost impossible as that is very stubborn attitude.

      That is so interesting to learn about Danish folks being timely. When you agreed on a time to meet, it makes sense to show up on time and not waste the other person’s time. After all, they probably took a while to get there to meet you. That said, there are valid reasons to be late and that’s okay. That is very kind of you to try to be early to meet your Danish friends. It must be nice to be early and everyone gets off to a good start.

      I also think the Plato quote would be great for our book. I was actually thinking about our book the other day. It will come together in time 😊 Thanks for stopping by, Amanda.

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  2. Such an interesting topic…and I live it every day! My experience with my Chinese-American in-laws has been the opposite of your post, though. They are very, VERY blunt, wanting to know how much money I make, how much rent costs, when we’re going to have a baby, etc. They don’t do subtext or avoid conflict.

    The Japanese and Japanese-American women I know are much less likely to be confrontational, right in line with your breakdown. And so is my husband.

    As for the rest of the U.S., well, it just depends. New Yorkers of all kinds have no problem getting in your face and yelling, while confrontation elsewhere is to be avoided if you’re educated and WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant)–especially if you are female.

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    • Your Chinese-American in-laws do sound very blunt! It’s like they want answers right away. Questions like how much your rent is and what you do are honestly very judgemental of your character…which they probably don’t say to your face all the time. Maybe with the newer generation they tend to be less confrontational, and more open-minded and value different things.

      I’ve always wanted to go to New York…I had someone from New York tell me that if you jump ahead of the queue for the subway, the person behind you will tell you off for it and force you to the back – like you said, in your face and yelling loud. In Asia, people are pretty silent when this happens.

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      • New Yorkers are actually very kind and will help you when you can’t figure out which was is uptown and which way is downtown on the subway (true story). But because they are brusque and don’t put up with bullshit, you’d better not bring any.

        In Los Angeles, people will be very nice to your face, but they’re not actually going to go out of their way to help you with anything…unless they are BIPOC or Russian-American immigrants.

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        • That is nice to hear New Yorkers are kind. I’ve heard they will stop and help you figure out your way – and then you better leave them alone for them to hustle and get on with their day.

          In LA, well, I guess BIPOC find strength in being together. Other than that, watch your back for others – something I will do when I visit at some point.

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  3. I was born and raised in the US by Taiwanese immigrants, and I’ve gone back-and-forth between the US and Taiwan throughout my childhood to see the differences in communication between the two countries. I’ve always found it rather abrasive the way Americans talk; some really don’t have a filter when they speak, or perhaps they don’t care of the effect it can have on people’s feelings. But at the same time, I find the passive, obey-authority-at-all-times attitudes of Asian culture to be frustrating, especially when it diminishes the ability to be creative and autonomous people (and sometimes, authority can be wrong!). I think having this ability to see both Eastern and Western perspectives on communication makes one more mindful of how they behave depending on the context, to understand the nuances of verbal and non-verbal expressions and to use that knowledge to be an effective communicator regardless of the background of the person whom they’re talking to.

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    • That is amazing to be able to go back and forth between Taiwan and the US. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mention some Westerners are abrasive and don’t have a filter when they speak. They probably feel they are the most important in the world – or feel they aren’t getting their way.

      It is such a good point – that being quiet and obedient can get in the way of being creative. I don’t deny this attitude is probably why we don’t see many Asians in many creative spheres. You don’t have to be loud to be creative but more often than not it involves standing up for yourself.

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  4. This post nicely analyses communication differences but Mabel, I would like to clarify some misconceptions. While I agree with collectivism in Asian culture, much of it is caused by fears – fear of getting disliked or dropped from a project, fear of repercussions even in families, as submission and keeping quiet even when you disagree is considered to be a value. In other words, freedom of thought and expression is suppressed. It may be emphasized that listening quietly is a sign of respect but speaking against injustice is also construed as disrespect. When somebody is raised with snub and mute mechanism, they tend to become “passive” but there are many who choose to speak up even in the face of criticism.
    Punctuality could never be generalized as it varies with each individual especially in Asian countries.

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    • So happy to see you here, Balroop. You always provide such insightful insights that make us all think. You bring up an excellent point, that in Asian culture collectivism is cause by fear and fear encourages a certain kind of behaviour. Sometimes it does make sense to remain quiet so as to fit in and it is the better thing to do than speaking up and offending others. Fear is probably an emotion many Asian cultures can relate to more than we want to admit…and that is like a cycle there. Very wise words from you and thank you for that.

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  5. I found your points very interesting. I’ve not had discussions with many people from other cultures. However, I grew up in a Southern state in the US and lived in a Northern state for 50 years. There was a great difference in the way people talked and reacted to each other. I have been comfortable and felt at home in both areas.

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    • Thanks, Anne. It sounds like you had two different experiences in a Southern and Northern state in the US. Hopefully you didn’t have trouble understanding the way people talked and you acclimatized okay. Lovely to hear you felt comfortable in both places.

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        • That is so kind people were patient when interacting with you. In these instances there has to be a lot of listening, and pauses, on everyone’s part. Quite a few of them must be great friends with you up until today 🙂

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          • When I moved to the northern part of our country, I lived in Queens, a borough of New York City. In three years, l never met a single neighbor in the apartment house. We made friends at church and kept up with two couples for a while. That was 54 years ago. I wonder if we’d still know them if we’d had social media back then.

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            • Ohhh. You lived in New York back then! I’ve always wanted to visit New York and such a pleasure to know you who lived there 🙂 I heard people are friendly in New York but then to keep to themselves. Maybe one day you will reconnect with your New York friends again.

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              • There are five boroughs of New York City. Manhattan is the island that people think of when you say New York. Brooklyn and Queens are the boroughs across the East River, and Queens is where we lived for three years. John took a subway into Manhattan to work. We moved 50 miles out on Long Island to Stony Brook, a town on the north shore. John then took a train and a subway to work, commuting four and a half hours a day. He says that was long, that most people commuted only an hour or two.

                New Yorkers are great in a crisis, many pitching in to help those around them. Mostly, though, they stick with those they know through work, worship, family, neighbors, or a hobby. It was a great experience to live there. I hope you get to visit New York some day, and that it will be more like the city I knew than the locked down version now.

                You might enjoy reading Susannah Bianchi’s blog. She is a model who lives in Manhattan and runs in Central Park every morning. I’ll send this and go look for her link.

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                • Thank you so, so much for enlightening me about New York City and New York, Anne. Yes, Manhattan is the place in New York people keep telling me about, but I also have an interest in the other boroughs and further out. Four and a half hours a day of commute is quite a lo of hours. Your husband John must have been a very hardworking person.

                  It did sound like you enjoyed what New York was all about back then. I’ve been watching videos about New York on YouTube recently, and New York does not look crowded at all. It is a sign of the times. Hopefully one day things improve and I would love to see the city for what it is.

                  Thank you so much for recommending Susannah’s blog. I will check it out. You are so kind 🙂

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  6. Happy new year, Mabel. Very interesting essay, as always. The idea of ‘saving face’ – it reminds me of a previous article of yours, I think pertaining to paying for a family dinner or some such, in the context of showing off wealth. It does seem like there is a lot more emphasis put on gestures than direct communication. The distinction between high and low context styles of communication may not be specific to cultures either. Maybe it’s just a sad reflection on my part, but as a (perhaps gross) generalisation I notice when women want something for a gift they often won’t state it directly but instead drop hints, subtle cues. And then the poor bloke (like me) who has no idea what those hints are would much rather prefer things be said outright to avoid misunderstandings and disappointments…

    On the idea of accepting work tasks even without knowing how to do them – I suppose different people have different opinions on what is better in an employee. I don’t think I’ve been afraid to say when I don’t know something, in contrast with my so-called ‘tech lead’ who tries to make a show of doing everything but it’s clear he doesn’t really know much and the rest of us poor grunts end up doing most of the work anyway. Working under a ‘yes’ man has only resulted in disaster after disaster for us.

    Sometimes I wish I would shut up and listen instead of speaking (too) early. It’s a good trait to have. As you know from my long-winded comments I often don’t know when to stop speaking/writing. But perhaps that applies more in a one-on-one context. In a group context, I tend to be more reserved, unless the discussion is about something I know a lot about. It’s interesting to have a learning context where everyone is quiet – as one accustomed more to Western culture I’d find that awkward. (Did I not explain clearly? Am I not communicating well enough for them?) I know a few Caucasian folks who have had teaching experience in Asia – would be interesting to know if they’ve had this experience of a silent classroom. Maybe contrasting with rowdy students in a Western cultural background they really like that!

    I didn’t know prolonged eye contact would be considered rude in an Eastern context. Funnily, I’d find the opposite to be rude – if someone is not looking at me (especially for a prolonged period) when I’m talking to them, I’d find that off-putting. Can still be a problem in Western culture too, where people often think it’s okay to look at their phones while you’re talking to them…

    I remember being taught that pointing directly at people isn’t polite, growing up in the UK. It’s a shame it’s not common to smile at strangers – might make meeting new people easier. On the other hand, as a child I was taught not to talk to or follow strangers whereas in more communal cultures this is completely normal or even encouraged. As a childless bachelor, I enjoy interacting with friends’ and relatives’ kids and on occasion have had random kids (eg toddler age) walk up to me while in parks and such. Unfortunately, in our culture and the prevalence of paedophiles and such, I can do nothing more than wave and smile and say a few words, lest I be considered a threat. So I suppose it makes sense to do what’s necessary to stay safe in the context you’re in.

    I think there is still hierarchy in the corporate world, even in Western contexts. But depending on the nature of the company and the individuals, it does seem like it’s more common to have approachable superiors and a more ‘all are equal’ kind of mentality. I find it interesting that your work experience has included the extremes of pre-planning and upfront payments. In the software development world (my field), excessive pre-planning is generally accepted as counter-productive, but it’s still insisted upon by traditional, business-minded folks. I’ve also learned about how some companies have flourished *because* they don’t hold to a traditional hierarchical structure, while those that do often stagnate and wither or even die.

    I definitely agree with the approach to punctuality between cultures! Although apologising for being early is quite an extreme position. My parents would often take me to appointments way too early – to the point where I’d be bored for a long time before anyone else showed up. And yet… to avoid doing that same thing as an adult I too often cut it too closely and wind up being a bit late instead… but that’s okay – Western culture almost expects tardiness! (Hence the term ‘fashionably late’)

    Regardless of communication style – I hope the intention is always that of mutual respect and consideration. I don’t often see this, however, regardless of racial or cultural background…

    On the same idea as your Plato quote, I’m reminded of words often attributed to Mark Twain: ‘Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.’ Which may well be derived from Proverbs: ‘Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent… Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.’

    I maintain that I haven’t seen hate specific to Asians because of COVID-19 (if anything there should be concern about the more contagious strains originating from South Africa and UK nowadays), but looking at on-line communication more generally, I definitely agree people are much more willing to be hostile on-line than in person. So many things people just simply wouldn’t say to another’s face, they will happily trot out in cyberspace. The relative anonymity reveals many people’s true colours and I’m not sure if it’s better that people act as they really are (so selfishly and hatefully), or hide their hate behind a pretence of civility (political correctness). I’d much rather that people remember that we are all made in the same image and share that basic common denominator irrespective of race, culture, nationality, or identity. Far too much tribalism in this day and age.

    Thanks for the lesson today. Being a banana I can’t say I encounter too much difference in terms of communication styles, but I learned a lot from your experiences. (:

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    • Happy New Year to you too, Simon. Never too late to wish anyone Happy New Year 😄 You have a good memory. I have mentioned ‘saving face’ in a few of my posts previously. It’s a concept that can be applied to different facets of life in Chinese culture. That is such a good point linking communication to a previous post on Chinese dining. Offering to pay for a Chinese dinner for all is a very kind non-communicative gesture. Non-communication gestures can be such a grey area and always open to interpretation and misinterpretation.

      That is great as a tech-lead at work you are proactive about stepping up to the tasks as it comes along. It’s probably why you are seen as the assumed leader of the team. There is no shame at all in speaking up and mentioning you aren’t unsure about doing something. I do think some people rather keep that quiet as they have pride in being able to do every part of their job. They probably also don’t want to misled their superiors about what they can and can’t do. You explained yourself clearly on learning in a quiet atmosphere. Your Caucasian friends and acquaintances might have been a bit taken aback teaching in quiet Asian classes – wondering if the students understand or are engaged or not.

      I think for many of us we were thought not to interact with strangers whe we were younger – and it sounds like that had an impact on your growing up. These days we live in such a sensitive cultural climate and interacting with strangers and kids can rub others the wrong way even if the intent is genuine. I have heard people say they are more inclined to be friendly towards each other in real life because of the pandemic – appreciating another’s presence and company. That said, the past year has made me even more wary about others and hygiene and making sure I keep my distance more than ever…each to their own I guess.

      Oh yes, there’s definitely hirarchy in the Western corporate world. The impression I get is that even in this environment, superiors are more approachable. When I was mentioning pre-planning and upfront fees, that is exclusive to my work as a freelancer not my day job. That is necessary to protect myself as my own individual business – both legally and in terms of making sure the workload isn’t overwhelming (this really is a whole post in itself 😂). Your field of software sounds more flexible and I may be wrong, but I guess there’s a lot of testing and trial and error down the road – so it makes to plan and rework as you go.

      That is great your parents brought you to appointments early! Amanda alluded to this in the earlier comments, that if you show up early it is a great sign of not wanting to waste the other person’s time. But of course, there are always instances where you’ll be late and in Australia it seems to be quite common.

      Personally I have had some opinionated encounters as an Asian person in-person during this pandemic. To me it seems these real-life experiences of hate communication are often really brief, sort of like blink-and-you-miss-it moments.

      That is an apt quote from Mark Twain. Thank you for sharing and that was something new I learnt today.

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      • Well, I’m pretty sure it was 2020 since I last wrote, plus it’s just in time for C/LNY. 😉

        Leader in all but name, at least up until two years ago. Thankfully I can finally leave my incompetent (formal) managers behind in a few weeks’ time. With regards to speaking up (or not), as a Westerner I’d find not speaking up could be more misleading, but again that’s probably due to the cultural differences you’re discussing.

        With regards to children and strangers, I just feel our culture suffers for the wrongdoings of a few, but I suppose that’s a consequence of living in a large, dense, urban environment. More communal oriented cultures and societies seem to be more welcoming or at least accepting of strangers/newcomers.

        Certainly the pandemic and associated restrictions have given reason for people to be at least marginally more open. On the occasions I’ve walked in the streets I find it’s a lot more common for strangers to offer a smile and/or friendly wave/nod – at least if I initiate. It’s as though people are desiring that human connection with someone – anyone – since we’ve not been able to see that many people face-to-face.

        I suppose, yes, there does appear to be a trend for Western managers to give the impression of being approachable informally, even if there’s still a formal hierarchy. From what you say it doesn’t sound like Eastern culture managers are willing to offer even that much – everyone has their place and they are expected to adhere to that hierarchy.

        Yes, I understood that the extremes for you were not within the same job. In terms of over-planning software development, the conclusion that it’s counter-productive comes largely from it still being an art just as much as a science. The empirical evidence strongly suggests it’s more efficient to iterate frequently for rapid feedback – every two weeks or so *everyone* (customers, developers, testers, etc) comes together to work out if things are heading in the right direction or not. If so, keep going, if not, readjust as needed. It’s a simple idea, but avoids the heavy costs of meticulously pre-planning everything in advance… only to find what you initially decided on didn’t actually match what the customer really wants. (And often even the customer isn’t exactly sure of what they want… https://dilbert.com/strip/2006-01-29)

        I completely understand and agree with the courtesy in not wasting others’ time. But as you mentioned in Western culture, the ‘other’ is usually late, so it ends up being a very long wait. XD Fortunately, often when I think I’m late I’m still the first to arrive…

        It may be that the people I tend to associate with are just more understanding. But then again, I have kept mostly to myself since the restrictions started.

        I believe the attribution to Mark Twain is inaccurate, but just what most people seem to go by in lieu of knowing the real author.

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        • That is great you are able to move on to a new work environment soon. Congratulations on the move and hopefully things go well, and it’s a team that communicates well too. I think whichever culture we are from, we probably are more inclined to speak up and offer thoughtful input when we actually have first-hand knowledge experience on a particular topic.

          It is interesting you suggested more communal societies tend to welcome strangers. I actually disagree and feel more communal societies are likely to stick within their bubble and take a while to welcome someone new. This could just be my impression (and I could be wrong), but for example, I get the feeling small country towns are often close knit and although friendly with strangers or people passing through their own, they are wary. In general, you have reside in a place for a while and get to know your local community before feeling a part of it.

          I definitely agree people out there are yearning human interaction these days in the midst of a global pandemic. After all we are human and desire human connection and that kind of connection – even if it is just a smile from a stranger – can help us emotionally. It’s probably also why some people are wanting to return to work in the office physically. Personally, work from home works for me better (and generally I work best at most things when left alone) and I don’t miss hearing other people’s small talk in the office lol.

          A lot of my friends in South-East Asia work in the corporate realm. Many have mentioned a hierarchical work structure is still very common. Managers there often have their own desk or cubicle or room away from the team. Here in Melbourne what I’ve encountered are managers work at the same area and talk constantly with everyone in the team, whereas people such as directors and executives tend to have their space away from everyone.

          Thank you for explaining how software development works. It does make sense in your field to test and adapt as you go since there can be quite a lot of refining along the way. You are right that there can be considerable costs during pre-planning especially if it is a long process, not to mention all that time spent on it too. That Dilbert comic does explain it all well when things don’t go to plan lol.

          That is good you are always the first to arrive. That way you can have a look around at things if it is a new place to check out. Arriving early also means you don’t have to worry about being late and upsetting the other person if they don’t like waiting XD

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          • I’ve worked with the team before and I know the manager actually treats people like people rather than ‘resources’. And yes, I find little point in speaking up about something I don’t really know about.

            I suppose you’re right – if there’s already existing barriers then it can be hard for newcomers to be accepted, at least while still being ‘new’. I suppose I was thinking back to the context of letting *relative* strangers engage with children in a communal society, as opposed to a very individualistic such as ours. In my experience with Indigenous culture, I suppose I had the benefit of being associated with someone they already knew, so there was already a level of trust through him. If I was a complete stranger, I probably wouldn’t have been so welcome.

            Funny thing about country towns, though – it depends which town it is, I suppose, but on my recent travels (very brief three-night trip to try to do at least something during my forced six-week leave while Queensland, Victoria, and even ACT shut themselves off from NSW) I felt people were very friendly towards me – even among communities where there are practically no Asians. While it’s not the first time I visited those places, I definitely felt more welcome there than in a lot of urban situations in ‘multi-cultural’ Sydney.

            I think I said before, we are made as relational beings. While it makes sense to isolate ourselves to minimise risk of viral transmission (for both the benefit of ourselves as well as those around us), doing so for too long can’t be good. Even as introverts I feel too much time in isolation isn’t great. I haven’t wanted to return to the office – mainly because of the politics – but that might change when I move teams next month… although most of them are based in Brisbane so I may still WFH anyway. Like you, I don’t miss all the nuisance behaviour and distractions in the office, nor the travel time and costs.

            Oh I see. I remember visiting my dad’s office several times during his working years. He had the benefit of his own room as a senior public servant but times have changed and I never had any such experience – my time in large corporate environments only started in 2010. Of course, the upper management will get their own rooms or even floors.

            As we discussed, I don’t often find myself needing to be prompt given that I’m mostly in a Western cultural context. Reflecting on a lunch I went to a few weekends ago, funny that all of us involved were of Chinese descent. The hosting family are probably the most Aussie/Western Chinese I’ve met in a long while. The other guest was an Indonesian Chinese family who were quite late, but I suppose they had a reasonable excuse of preparing something nice for the lunch.

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            • That is great you have worked with the team before – and that means you know where you will fit in and know you’ll get along. So happy for you 🙂

              The idea of letting strangers engage with children is not new and it happens everywhere. But I think some are more protective of their kids over others. Some folk are more open to the world and expect nothing but the best in others. As you mentioned, if there is a degree of trust towards others around you, then you probably wouldn’t mind people engaging with your kids. I think the same goes towards people and their pets you see on the streets. You probably might have see this too, but it’s interesting to see how strangers stop to admire each other’s dogs or cats when out walking.

              That is great you had a good time through country towns in Australia. For most part I also had friendly encounters – nicely saying good morning and then minding their own business. With bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne and really cities in general, people can be too focused on bustline about and going on with their city life to be polite to others around them. I have noticed homelessness more on the streets in Melbourne and I guess that also adds to the unfriendly vibe going round.

              Yeah, even the most introverted among us we also need some form of human interaction. Some of us introverts talk to others, get some ideas and then take those ideas way and think about them during quiet time. Maybe you will have a good return to the office and really enjoy the work and team you are with. I so agree all the nuisance behaviour, travel time and office politic all adds up when you’re physically at the office. It looks like most of Melbourne are being encouraged to be back at the office, so I guess it’s a matter of time I have to learn how to communicate in-person at work again lol.

              Oh, when someone is late for a meal but they bring a nice dish to share with everyone, all is forgiven right away 😛

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              • Not new, no, but new-ish to me in our cultural context. Again, probably due to the prevalence of paedophiles and other predators.

                Not really a dog/cat person, but yes, I see that in those who are walking their pets, there seems to be an automatic connection somehow.

                I thought there was some new cases in Melbourne prompting a return of at least some restrictions, but then it’s hard keeping up with the news in Sydney let alone other places. XD

                Ha ha, yeah, that’s pretty much it. It was fine, everyone involved is pretty much Westernised, I think. I suppose it would have been seen as very poor form in Eastern culture.

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                • It’s funny how we are drawn towards children and pets that are not ours and are essentially strangers when we are outside. There’s an automatic trust that seems to suddenly appear in these instances. I guess this is sort of the same feeling we get when interacting with people, say, serving us in shops or providing us a service.

                  Looks like we are back in lockdown for a bit. Interesting times and catching up with people in person here is put on hold for now.

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  7. Oh, Mabel, how awful for you to be abused like that in the street. I really feel for you because I’ve experienced it too.
    Thank you for this very thoughtful exposition of the communication differences. Sometimes I feel eastern and sometimes western. It’s an odd existence.

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    • That is awful you got abused along similar lines too. You just never expect it. Recently I had a similar experience of hateful expression of communication again and didn’t engage too.

      I think you summed it up for those of us between cultures: it’s an odd existence. Indeed.

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  8. Hi Mabel, Nice to hear from you. You always write an intriguing, thoughtful and comprehensive post. We live in a multi cultural country usually in a harmonious manner. I worked in a dental office for over 25 years, so quickly learned to pick up on non verbal cues and the cultural differences. It helped when establishing rapport with patients and their families. Yet, still so much to learn. Good point on the “miscommunication.” As I continue to read your post, I see how you develop more on the non-verbal communication. I love your phrase “…you can respect these values…”. Many great gems in this excellent post, Mabel. I have bookmarked.❤️ Erica

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  9. I love the bit about looking angry in Malaysia, but I wonder if the style of teaching in Asian schools is more strict, and that might contribute to why Asian university students are timid. When I lived in Australia, pointing was considered rude (just like yawning with your mouth open), and I still think that way even though everyone here seems to yawn without covering their mouth. Yuck! Also, I don’t agree that all Asians are more fixated on time. If you ever go to India, you’ll know that they are the least punctual and they carry that habit wherever they live! And lastly, that “flat-level playing field” sadly only applies to white men most of the time.

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    • That is a good observation on strict Asian schools and timid personalities. That could be very true. I definitely don’t mind looking angry in Malaysia at all. It really is a place where you have to take care of yourself if you don’t get chauffeured around everywhere.

      That is another good observation on yawning, Mallee. I have seen so many people here in Australia yawn widely and make yawning noises while at it. With COVID, I think it might be best yawning is done more discretely.

      Time and punctuality can be different for everyone in different cultures. Yes, ‘flat-level playing field’ applies to many, many white men and not so many other demographics unfortunately.

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  10. Wonderful post, Mabel. So interesting to read about the differences in our communication styles from East to West. Important to know! Also, body language is universal and so those can be read where language is a barrier.
    I’m sorry you have had to suffer racial slurs, Mabel. That is disgusting. We always hope for a better world and yet this pandemic seems to have brought out the worst.

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    • Thanks, Lisa. Communication differences can be eye-opening and plenty to learn from. You are so right that body language is a universal language. It does have many nuances but it is way to communicate with others when you don’t speak their language.

      Yes, the pandemic has brought out the worst in many of us. But we can all learn and move forwards more enlightened.

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  11. Thank you for this post Mabel. I always love reading your writing, and this piece was very thoughtful and makes you think about the ways we also communicate online versus offline. It is very important to value and respect different cultures and communication styles. As a Taiwanese Kiwi, I feel that there have been many moments where I felt that being quiet or introverted was perceived as a negative trait in the workplace or in other areas of my life. However, when we create a space where people can openly share without judgment, then it creates a safe environment where everyone can flourish.

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    • Thanks for your kind words, Katie. It really is funny how being quiet and introverted is so often perceived negatively – and this trait doesn’t necessarily mean we are not as capable of others. Agree as introverts we flourish in quieter spaces where there is no judgement based on who speaks the loudest and the most. It can be hard to find middle ground between the louder and quieter people. The least we can do is let each other express their thoughts in their own ways.

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  12. You find such beautiful topics to write about, Mabel. I admire what you write. Almost everything is true here in India except time! I guess most Asian societies are about being social & collective. On the other hand, western societies are all about the “now” moment & individualism. There is a high regard for other human beings in Asian societies which is missing in western cultures. A well-written post.

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  13. For the life of me, I do not understand why some people think it is fine to just randomly say something hateful to someone in person or online. I have never understood it when people act this way. Communication is hard enough as it is, why make it that much harder with hate?
    It’s nice to see you back in this space Mabel, I hope you have been well.
    Cheers, Amy

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    • Oh yes, I so agree with why people randomly say not nice things to others. Perhaps they want to feel powerful over another person – but that just reflects unfavourable on themselves.

      That is so right, communication is hard enough as it is. It is lovely to be back here. Hope to be back more frequent this year. Good to see you and hope you have been well with everything, Amy 🙂

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  14. Mabel it is wonderful to see you back to writing on the blog. I am so sorry to read of your confrontation on the street. What is wrong with people? Very disheartening.

    I read with interest your comparisons from west to east in communication. when we were travelling, I tried to research ahead of time any non verbal or verbal communications that could possibly offend. I think it is very important to respect the customs and traditions when one is visiting.

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    • It is lovely to be back and thank you for stopping by, Sue. I hope to post more frequently and be around here more this year.

      Hateful confrontation is puzzling and you do wonder where that behaviour is coming from. That is great you research the country, its people and their ways of communication before visiting. From reading your travel blogs, I feel that you approach each place and its people with a lot of respect and openness. We can all learn from you 🙂

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  15. I work in an environment where I have to deal with people from the Netherlands, France, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and of course Indonesia, and I noticed there are differences in the way they communicate — some are quite subtle though. However, this is very much expected because even among Indonesians ourselves, we have a wide range of communication habits. People from North Sumatra, for example, are known for being straight talkers, while Central Javanese are among the most soft-spoken in the country. Those from Maluku in the east are usually more cheerful, while East Javanese are more blunt. Variations happen so we can learn from each other. Based on my experience, there are situations when talking like a North Sumatran is the best, but there are also moments when Central Javanese indirectness can get you what you want. And this applies to international communication as well.

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    • That’s quite a diverse group of people you work with, Bama. It sounds like it’s never boring working with so many different people with different communication styles, recognising how each culture communicates with you. You are spot on when you say variations happens among people. Behaviours can be different among the same culture, and you illustrated that with different cultural groups in Indonesia. The more you know how one someone communicates and you can adapt to that, the more chacnes you get along and work along better.

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  16. Mabel, a superb and informative article! I loved learning about the differences in communication and feel there are positive and negatives in both cultures. It’s interesting how some to us normal actions are considered rude and aggressive in other cultures – and something to bear in mind if travelling abroad to these countries (I wish!) Although I haven’t as yet travelled to the Far East I’ve experienced differences in communication (and miscommunication) here in Europe etc. In Sweden when giving a toast at dinner it is expected to look everyone in the eye around the table before taking a sip and then afterwards, to do otherwise is seen as rude! Also the norm of greeting people is with a handshake, in the UK it seems to have become the norm to hug and/or kiss on the cheeks (obviously all pre-pandemic times!) Once I start to think on the topic endless examples spring to mind!😃

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    • Thanks for reading and for your kind words, Annika. That is so true. Some actions are normal to us but to others are considered rude and vice-versa. So interesting to learn that you are expected to make eye contact with everyone when having a toast in Sweden. I guess that is a sign to wish everyone good luck. Yes, hugs and handshakes are common in Western cultures pre-pandemic times. If you tried these greetings in Asia, people would assume you are a couple or family members and if not, think you are invading their privacy. It can be such a fine line as to whether a certain way of communication is okay with someone.

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  17. I think there are some socio-economic class differences in communication style. My parents came from villages in China. However my father was more discreet in his remarks, vs. my mother who is quite blunt and direct. She is the 2nd youngest of 8 children…so maybe for birth order influences. What was noticeable to me were the differences between Japanese women in general to what I would hear of Chinese women… My opinion is a bit different because I was born and raised in Canada. So I would have a more Western style..suits me Mabel. ‘Cause in terms of diverse workplaces, a person does have to find ways express their opinion at the right times. Otherwise one doesn’t get heard.

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    • It seemed your parents who came from different villages made an effort to get along despite their different communication styles. Sometimes to get along with someone you have to get used to how they express themselves.

      That is good you know what Western style suits you, Jean. I think I am a combination of both Western and Chinese communications styles…depending on the situation. You are right. Sometimes you really have to find ways to speak up at work or else you’ll be a walkover and can’t make an impact. Not speaking up at all is also probably not good for your self-esteem too.

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  18. Being a westerner, I’m upfront with what I want to say, sometimes wishing I had kept my mouth closed. I wish I could get a better grip on true listening the way so many Asians do. I think I’d be a happier person that way.

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    • I think some of us are more impatient than others. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, it seems like you are bold enough to state your opinion directly as opposed to beating around the bush and being vague. Listening can be learnt over time.

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  19. I’ve experienced these differences first hand, haha. When I worked in the factory, we had many problems because the Chinese workers simply didn’t speak up when there was a problem, they would act as if nothing was happening until the thing almost exploded in our face. The guy in charge (Spanish) couldn’t understand why they acted like that (I couldn’t either, to be honest; pointing the problem out first would have saved them trouble and face).

    Spanish people are not punctual when meeting friends but for work you have to be there on time, haha.

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    • That is the worst thing, to work in a factory and no one speaks up about about a dangerous problem. Good that you got away safe 😀 It would be common sense to speak up. But I guess sometimes people don’t want to point out a problem because they might get accused of starting it in the first place.

      I heard Spanish people like to take their time outside of work…I think that idea comes from mid-afternoon siestas, though I am not so sure if that is a thing anymore lol.

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  20. Hey M, I think you did a good job of trying to be balanced and fair in your comparison of the two communication styles. But I do think there is great variation across Asian cultures which some of your readers picked up on.

    For example, Thailand’s nickname is The Land of Smiles because Thais are friendly. Sure, some smiles are not genuine, you are right, but often they mean it. Khmers are also quite warm and can be incredibly direct. I often found them to be more appealing in their directness since I was used to that in the US.

    And as for punctuality! Whooweee, Thais are notoriously late. It’s common to come to class late – probably the hardest thing for me as a Westerner to adapt to, even coming from Hawaii (which is filled with Asians) where being on time is not so important, depending. The best thing I’ve discovered lately is that Thais will wait up to AN HOUR for a friend… 15mins is all you get in the US and that’s being generous!

    So I second Marta on the time thing, and I’m glad she brought up Spanish culture. And Jean, bringing up class differences which is HUGE in my book. I think an upper class Chinese will have more in common with another upper class Westerner and so on. Chinese ppl can be quite direct and loud too! I think maybe the Japanese have become the stereotype for the rest of Asia 😛

    But you took a big bite when you sliced the world in half and talked about communicate styles 😛 And we haven’t even gotten into the sexes! 😀

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    • I think you yourself made a great observation Lani, that there is great variation with communication among Asian cultures and some readers picked up on it 😛

      Yes, that phrase ‘The Land of Smiles’ describing Thailand and its friendly people – it can be true at face value. It’s lovely to hear most of the time there people are genuine about smiling. That can be a start of a good connection.

      Ohhh poor you have to deal with lateness to class! Hopefully it doesn’t happen too often for your liking… I also noticed that in Asia people will be super early, punctual and queue up for things like, a big name store opening or for limited edition food item menu. This is something most Westerners probably don’t get and won’t bother to wait.

      YES. Class is a major factor when it comes to communication. Sometimes you can tell from the way a person speaks if they are from a lower, middle or upper class – and probably even guess if they went to university as well. That is true, Chinese people can be direct and loud to – especially when wanting their opinion to be heard. The quiet Asian stereotype could also come from the fact that Westerners are generally louder and more outspoken in comparison.

      Talking about communication between all kinds of genders…that is a whole other can of worms there 😀

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  21. Dear Mabel, you’ve explained many of the differences between the cultures well here. I’m so sorry to hear about the experience you had on the street. My husband has had similar happen to him and it’s very upsetting. I also wanted to say that eye contact as a sign of aggression and rudeness is something that I hadn’t thought much about so I’m glad you brought it to my attention. I never want someone to feel uneasy in my presence, so it is good to have all of this cultural knowledge. Great post!

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    • That is terrible to hear your husband had similar distasteful encounters on the street. Hope he is alright and you are not affected too. I think some people interpret eye contact as a sign of rudeness and aggression as they don’t like getting started it. For instance, you wouldn’t want neighbours staring at you in your home. Then again, there is time and place for eye contact especially in situations when you are getting along and having a good time with everyone. Hope you are well, Christy 🙂

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  22. Regarding high and low context culture, I was sent on some wild goose chases in the grocery store the first year we lived in the Philippines. I didn’t realize at first that the clerks wouldn’t tell me they didn’t know where an item was and instead they would point me in any random direction.

    Regarding speaking to strangers or not, In the Philippines, some Filipinos were very open and friendly, almost surprisingly so. Others, especially clerks in banks or department stores acted as though I didn’t exist. After we returned to the United States, I found myself enjoying chatting with salesclerks and other strangers. Of course, even here, I’m less likely to speak to strangers in a very large city or in places I consider unsafe. Also, since Donald Trump was president, political differences have made friendly communication more difficult.

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    • That is not very nice of the clerks to point you in some random direction in the shops. Either they misunderstood you or they really didn’t want to appear helpless.

      That is lovely you got to chat with the locals in the Philippines and also back in the US. It makes sense to talk to those whom you feel comfortable with. Sometimes you really don’t know what someone’s intentions are.

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  23. Great post. It’s terrible how people can be such jerks. You’re just going about your business and that happens. I get it here in the UK being Indian. I’ve worked with people from around the world and I’ve not really noticed much difference in communication styles. Maybe I’ve just not thought about it. You do however hear about the cultural stereotypes.

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    • Most of us just mind our own business as you said. You don’t ever expect hate speech or attitude to come your way. And when it happens, you are shocked and then come to realise maybe people are watching you all the time.

      That is great you worked with people from around the world. Maybe communicating with others just comes natural to you.

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  24. Hi Mabel, It’s lovely to see you back in the blogosphere. As always, you’ve written a post that gets me thinking. As I read the differences you explained, I tried to think of situations I have been in and how they might have applied. I think your advice to listen, observe and learn, and especially be respectful is important. We may all have different ways of communicating but that doesn’t mean that any way is better or worse, just different. Unless it is disrespectful, which that fellow was who shouted at you in the street. I’m sorry there are rude people like that around. I can only think that he mustn’t feel too happy within himself so must try to make others feel unhappy too. He chose you as an easy target. He wouldn’t have done the same to someone bigger and meaner looking. I agree the best thing to do is ignore and walk on.
    I like the Plato quote you used. It’s a good one. I think sometimes in social situations, particularly meeting new people, we might all make a bit of empty conversation as we try to find something we can both/all discuss.
    Once again, you’ve written a comprehensive post with much to challenge our thinking. Thank you.

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  25. Here’s a random thought: I think social media and the fact of being virtually invisible (online anyway) has brought the crazies straight out of the woodwork. It has somehow given people with no filters tacit permission to vomit out the worst humanity has to offer. Mind you, there’s a lot of good stuff there as well. But I’m thinking more particularly of the guy yelling insults at you on the street.

    When I was younger and dressed in mini skirts, the fashion of the day, I had men shouting at me all the time. I honestly never understood then, and probably wouldn’t understand it now. These weren’t racial insults, but they were certainly misogynistic. Most women I know, including myself, dress for themselves. Not to get attention from random strangers. And if we need to walk across the street to get somewhere, we should not have to suffer insults at the hands of these people. OK, rant over.

    I have traveled quite a bit of my life, not as much as some but more than most perhaps. There are all kinds of people with all kinds of communication styles. Not having traveled in Asia, but known Asian people, I have noticed they are far more nuanced than Westerners I have encountered. We can indeed seem brash in comparison. And what it has taught me is to be more circumspect, to hold back the instant thoughts from coming up into a stream flowing out of my mouth. Is this what the culture taught me? I cannot say. To be frank, I never felt comfortable in my own skin; perhaps I was trying to fit in somehow.

    Anyhow, great post as usual, Mabel. You always give great food for thought. 🌹💕

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    • This was such a thoughtful comment. Thank you so much for sharing, I enjoyed reading it. I think there is much truth to the online world bringing out the crazies straight out from the woodwork. People seem to become bolder and harsher when they can hide. That said, the online world has facilitate communiction with so many people around the world, made it easier for so many of us to communicate despite our differences, countries and time zones.

      That wasn’t nice when men shouted at you for wearing mini skirts back in the day. You had every right to wear what you want and yes, especially dress for yourself. They probably shouted at you as they wanted your attention be your friend – and such remarks are so annoying when you just want to get on with your day.

      Agreed Westerners can be more direct and Asians more nuanced in terms of behaviour and speech. Not that either approach is bad, but sometimes different approaches are interpreted in a different way by others. At the end of the day, we should always try to find some middle ground when talking with others – and give each person opportunity and time to speak.

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  26. Wonderful post Mabel. You used some good comparisons. Many countries have their own customs and modes of communication, but body langugage is universal, and if you know how to read it, it doesn’t matter what language they speak. 🙂 ❤

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  27. Mabel,
    You have picked a topic I am fascinated with, cross-cultural communication. This doesn’t mean that I know much about it. As an educator for over 20 years, with experience teaching in multicultural public schools, I have been curious about how to teach and respect the different ways children act/react. Now I am teaching adults English online. I often wonder if there are things I do or don’t do that could make it easier for them since the beginners can’t speak much English.
    I guess the three things I rely on most whether I am in the US or traveling internationally is, 1. Listen and observe before speaking/taking action 2. Assume positive intent 3. Be an active learner.
    What would your tips be for people when they are interacting with others from another culture or who speak a different language?
    I really enjoyed your article.

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    • It is always lovely to hear from you, Ali. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. That is amazing you have taught in multicultural schools. With students from different background, you must have had to adapt your teaching styles every now and then.

      So agree with you that listening and observing is so important, as is assuming positive intentions. I also think asking open-ended questions is helpful when talking to someone and both of you don’t share a common language. Also not correcting others if you feel they pronounced a word wrong – and also learning from them too. It’s important to make everyone feel included. I hope this helps, Ali 🙂

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  28. A very informative post, Mabel. I’m so sad that you were insulted by that ignorant man. I just don’t understand how people can be this way. I had to smile about the Japanese apology for a train leaving 25 seconds early. I think if I were rushing to catch a train, I’d rather it left 25 seconds late than early. It might make all the difference, so perhaps the apology was called for. 🙂 My dad was born and brought up in Indonesia and was always a stickler for punctuality, often to my chagrin when i couldn’t always manage to get home from a date by exactly 9pm. 😯

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  29. Informative and well-written post, Mabel! 🙂 As both student and teacher, I often interacted with people from different cultures–I found it to be enlightening and rewarding. I’m delighted to discover and then to share your experiences with others… Your quote from Plato speaks volumes in a few words: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.’

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    • Thanks for your kind words, Bette. Lovely to hear you have interacted with people from different cultures. Must have always been such an insightful, engaging experience where you learnt from them and they learnt from you 🙂

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  30. An American friend taught English in Japan and struggled at first to get casual conversations going among her students. She’d open up a topic and everyone would agree with the first opinion that was expressed. She was hoping for disagreement–anything to keep the conversation going. I’m not sure what she did eventually, but understanding the cultural difference that lay at the bottom of the difference between her expectation and their response allowed her to adapt.

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    • It sounds like your American friend had an interesting time teaching English in Japan. Maybe the students were agreeing to everything she said out of politeness and were afraid of offending her if they didn’t agree. Expectations definitely need to be acknowledged and managed during such lessons in the classrooms.

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  31. This was fascinating, Mabel. I was aware of some of it from working at an airport and living in different cultures. I am typically Western, almost an ugly American! Very smiley and warm until you upset me and then look out… Once I created a small women led riot in an Egyptian supermarket because the men were so rude and jumping the line.
    Our recent politics have made me very quiet because I live in a Republican area so I understand your remark about Malaysia. My hotel room in KL had five locks on the door!

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    • That is so interesting that you worked in an airport previously. You must have met so many people from different countries and background, many travelers. I don’t blame you for starting a small riot in an Egyptian supermarket. Then again, it sounds some people will always jump the line no matter what you say or do.

      That is amazing your hotel room in KL had five locks. I lived in KL for years and had multiple locks and padlocks along with a gate across the front door…and never felt completely safe.

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  32. Love this post Mabel, thanks so much for sharing! As a Vietnamese American born and raised in the United States, it’s helpful to reflect on how my upbringing in the US has definitely made me more individualistic and assertive than perhaps if I had been born and raised in Vietnam or in a different Eastern culture. Helpful to acknowledge these differences so that those from Eastern cultures are not perceived as lacking drive or self-possession even if they are quieter. It does make me wonder what the origins of these differences are and how they may be traced to different countries’ or cultures’ origins in history.

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    • Thanks, Thomas. Glad you liked this post. Interesting to hear you say you probably would have a different mindset if you were raised elsewhere. While we can learn how to communicate at home, we also learn how to communicate and express ourselves with who we hang out with – you are who you choose to be with. On the surface, certain ways of communications can mislead others into having false perceptions of who we are. It can be hard to pinpoint an origin of a particular way of self-expression since modes of communication and communication styles evolve over time.

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  33. Fascinating topic, Mabel!! There are so many cultural differences all around the world it’s a wonder we get along relatively well with each other, isn’t it? 😁 There are so many variables having an influence on our communication styles, we really get kind of impregnated by it from very early on. Here in Germany we’re generally quite blunt although with lots of differences between different states. To speak our mind comes naturally to most but it’s not always very helpful especially when you’re communicating with people who don’t. I know this from my family relation in England. Talking with my aunt can be quite challenging at times, the English seem to be- at least to me – more reserved and polite.
    It’s interesting to read about the different conception of smiling. I’ll try to keep this in mind should I ever travel to Asia!
    And I’m so sorry that you had to endure this attack by that horrible man – I want to believe that someday there will be a time when racism ceases to exist but it might take a couple of generations.
    Oh, and I love that quote by Plato!
    Take care!

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    • So agree with you. There are so many variable that influence our persona and communication styles. A lot of the time we don’t realise how we are communicating as it comes naturally to us – and we often react more than we reflect.

      That’s nice many in Germany know how to speak their minds. I prefer it when others are blunt, honest and straight to the point as opposed to being vague with their words…no need to play mind games and guessing games lol. At the end of the day people probably appreciate your honesty, Sarah. People usually appreciate that 🙂

      I am sure your aunt in England likes talking to you even if the English sounds more quiet and polite 😁 Personally I feel people in Asia are so much more quiet and reserved compared to people here in Australia who are just so much louder lol. Hope you are doing well ❤

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      • I’m hopeless at playing mind and guessing games! So am rather thankful when people speak their mind. 😉 Which doesn’t prevent us from being polite too, of course. Diplomacy is the key to many things in life, isn’t it?
        All’s well here, and I hope the same is true for you? Take care! ❤

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        • Being direct is always so much more helpful than mind games! Politeness is also a very nice gesture. In many ways it is kindness and showing respect to the other person. It also doesn’t cost to be kind or polite.

          All is good here. Wishing summer would last longer but it will be here again at the end of the year. You take care too, Sarah ❤

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  34. It’s all about respect isn’t it. And sadly that guy in the street was lacking in any of it. People can be so rude and really have so much to learn. An interesting article Mabel and it made me think about the different ways we communicate in the east and west and within all cultures actually. I hope that life is treating you well these days.

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  35. This is so interesting. And such a good post for you to write. I agree that it’s so important for us to understand the culture and the communication styles of different cultures so that we don’t get offended and instead learn about the individuals and their needs.

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    • Thanks, Pam. This post was fun to write. It is definitely important to be aware of each other’s needs and try to see things from their point of view. When we disagree with others, we don’t need to offend but just respect and accept where they are coming from. Hope you are doing well, Pam 🙂

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  36. I noticed that Westerners tend to be more forthcoming with their thoughts and replies whereas we Asians aren’t that direct to avoid hurting the other person’s feelings. That was something I initially had issues with when I was in Australia – communicating with someone who was direct with me, but on the other hand, it doesn’t give rise to any misunderstanding.

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    • Westerners in Australia can be really direct, and hope it didn’t rub you the wrong way too much. Sometimes directness can be confronting, and in some instances accusatory. Good to hear you didn’t have too many misunderstandings. Hope all is going well with you for work and life. Take care, Ciana 🙂

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  37. Hi! Mabel, Wonderful to see you back and as always with such insightful thoughts so deep driven. Thought provoking indeed!!! It’s the culture that make us who we are and how we behave, though our nature has its say but culture plays its part and does so with profundity. Language being the most vital link the chain of culture across different society. We have our language and in a way the language encompass so much of what we think and how we respond. There are aspects in language that makes in certain culture so nuanced whereas others it becomes so authoritative in nature.

    As we travel and dwell between culture we get to see the different side of human engagement. After all its in the way our mind gets conditioned with the people and surrounding we grow up. There is this paradox that is at play between the Eastern and Western culture. Speaking it straight, being direct and speaking it indirectly, allowing some padding in our talking; you have so aptly coined it “low context” vs. “high context”. The voice and tone we speak, high pitch to shallow tone. Speaking loud is one thing speaking with authority and affirmation. Body language plays such an vital role, and here we employ everything our face to hands to the head movement, so much so that we forget to put our text in context.

    Being silent listening to such strong voice and replying with measure is culture, it doesn’t matter which culture we belong to. Somebody making such comment at you are brazenly uncultured. It is nothing to do with language. The same people change once they move between culture and I have seen many Indians who have moved to USA and when you meet later you see a different side to they way of dealing, it all gets transmitted in the culture we live.

    Time is something here in India is somewhat taken for granted, though punctuality is the yardstick, many times the time gets stretched for any meeting and we have loads of excuses to substantive. There is a feeling coming late makes you important and making people wait for a sense of your status, gives some kind ratification to your leadership position. There are these weird behaviors and it is deep seated, and it is individualistic in nature not to do with the culture we belong. Yes, the community we live does induce its bit of influence and we are drawn into it.

    Hope all well!!! Always such a delight Mabel, great to see you back. Take Care!!! 😀

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    • Hello Nihar. It is wonderful to be back here, and hopefully will be back more often this year. It is wonderful to see you here. There is much to be learn from the different kinds of communication around us. As usual, you said it so brilliantly, that ‘it’s the culture that makes us who we are’ and yes, nature to has its say – and nature is probably why some of us change and behave differently over time. Language is a big link between all of us, be it the languags we speak and think in, to body language. So many nuances indee.

      The differences between Eastern and Western culture can be very disctinct. Often we get culture shock when going to these different parts of the world – and communication differences is usually one of the things that forces us out of our comfort zone. ‘High context’ and ‘low context’ are two very different approaches to communication. Most of the time we don’t realise the different way someone is communicating with us and instead we wonder why it is hard to get along with the other person.

      I so agree that being silent and listening is a strong trait. It comes in handy when there are people making uncalled for comments and comments that serve no purpose to you. That is an excellent point of people from India moving to the US and then you see a different side to them. It is in the culture they have learnt and gotten used to, and that almost always reflects in the way they communicate with you. It’s not a bad thing but interesting how we can adapt to our surroundings and take on not just different traits but also change personalities.

      Again you bring up another good point there – some people who come late see it as a mark of importance and everyone accepts them being late. It’s an unspoken rule if someone is of importance and they are late, it’s perfectly okay. This seems to happen in corporate meetings and also in the higher ups in the world…you always hear of them running late for a meeting or presentation or speech. You presented it perfectly – weird and individualistic behaviours the world has come to accept.

      Hope you are doing well over there, Nihar. Looking forward to visiting you soon again 😀

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  38. Mabel, every time I read what you write I am so impressed by how well written your posts are and documented and researched. Before I read your words I honestly have not thought of the differences of communication between east and west. But now because of you, I have a better understanding how differently certain cultures communicate from another. Very well articulated, my friend. Thank you for the education I received here today. Bless you! xo

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    • You are very kind, Amy. Thank you for your kind words. We all communicate differently and use different forms of expressions. For you, I can see you have such a way with communicating through your art and photos. Please keep doing your art and thank you for being you 💕

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