Communication is one of the essential parts of people’s lives. Modern society can be characterized by extensive interaction of people from different countries and different continents. Boundaries diminish, and people start visiting not only neighboring areas, but fly across oceans and learn about different cultures, gain new experiences.
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However, despite such freedom in terms of overcoming distances, people still have difficulties with cross-cultural communications, since each nation gained particular social peculiarities due to many historic, social, geographic and many others factors. Fortunately, people has started considering this issue, thus, there are a lot of approaches to solving this problem, and many researchers suggest several ways of overcoming difficulties.
First, it is necessary to point out that there are several definitions and understandings to the very notion of communication. In 1960s researchers suggested that communication is interchanging of meanings via different “symbols and signs” (Reisinger 2009, p.166).
But in 1990s scholars suggested a new understanding of this notion, which is confined to the ability of people to share ideas and reach the same opinion, i.e. people not only communicate some idea but try to convince the interlocutor to accept this idea, thus, the result of communication is shared idea (Reisinger 2009, p.167).
Though, this definition cannot be precise, since it is difficult or even impossible, and hardly necessary to make people share the same meaning. The major purpose and result of communication is to transfer one’s idea to other people, so that they could understand it and adequately react. Unfortunately, sometimes people even within the same language and culture fail to implement this purpose of communication and in this case misunderstanding occurs, which can lead to different negative consequences.
Admittedly, communication among people of different languages and cultures faces much more obstacles. When considering cross-cultural communication, researchers define such difficulties as: differences in verbal and non-verbal communication (Reisinger and Turner 2003, p.18).
Differences in verbal communication emerge due to the peculiarities of language, for instance, people may be confused by difference in words sequence or sounds, moreover, some scholars define that difficulties are also caused by “variations in vocabulary” (when the same word denotes several notion or vice versa) and “linguistic relativity” (variety of dialects or jargons and accents) (Reisinger and Turner 2003, p.18).
Differences in non-verbal communication are caused by movements (gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, nodding), space (personal space), touch (“the meaning of touch”), time (“time orientations, time systems, time perceptions”), voice (“fast/slow”, “loud/soft”, etc.), and even other “non-verbal codes” (body odour, blushing, tears, body shape, skin colour, clothing, cosmetics, etc.) (Reisinger and Turner 2003, p.18-19).
Thus, there are many constituents building up intercultural misunderstanding, verbal and non-verbal, where each of these elements play significant role and cannot be excluded.
After defining the main factors causing difficulties in cross-cultural communication, it is possible to consider this issue in terms of tourism. Many researches pay quite a lot attention to this issue.
Thus, Theobald (1998) considers the problem in terms of tourism, and assumes that the majority of tourists feel like (and very often are treated as) strangers, and without knowing a language they feel frustrated, and this is the main reason why a lot of tourist choose countries where people speak the same language, moreover, tourist may be also confused with different traditions and ways of communication of the host country (Theobald 1998, p.133).
However, Cohen (2004), considering difficulties in cross-cultural communication, notes that often tourists visit a country without knowing the language of the host people, and in this case, especially when visiting some countries of Africa and Oceania they use non-verbal means of communication, i.e. gestures, which are universal in nature and explicit (Cohen 2004, p.220).
Cohen also denotes that such non-verbal communication often becomes an amusing game (e.g. when tourists try to buy some food using gestures) which “serves to create and express a mutual interest and sympathy” (Cohen 2004, p.220). Thus, there are evidences which prove that non-verbal communication is slightly superior to the verbal communication and in some particular cases can become the only means of reaching understanding.
While considering the issue of cross-cultural communication and tourism it is necessary to note that the central factor of this problem is difference in cultures and traditions. Admittedly, different nations had their history and their development which constructed this or that norm.
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Thus, within the same culture people should follow the main principles, for instance, there are several types of appearance and postures appropriate for different occasions (Hinde 1975, p.248). Of course, different nations have their particular requirements, thus, in Arabic countries women should be dressed in special gowns in the street or in public, whereas western women have less restrictions, though it will be inappropriate to come to opera in jeans or shorts.
Different nations have their perception of politeness. Thus, European people knock into the door before coming into the room, while Americans don’t consider this to be polite, rather inappropriate, and Esposito et al. (2007) provide historical and cultural background of this peculiarity of American culture (Esposito et al. 2007, p.87).
Reisinger (2009) provides analysis of the main cultural peculiarities of different nations, thus, the research points out that different people have different attitude even to the way they look at each other, and western people prefer to look into the eyes of the interlocutor, and regard a person who avoids looking into eyes being indifferent to the conversation or even rude, and, on the contrary, eastern people prefer not looking into the eyes, and regard people looking into eyes rude and aggressive (Reisinger 2009, p.172).
Thus, many slight or significant peculiarities in cultures of different people exist, which can lead to misunderstanding.
Despite numerous factors causing difficulties in cross-cultural communications, there is quite simple way out. First of all, people should be tolerant and attentive to the culture of different people. It is impossible to consider own culture to be the most appropriate and adequate, while ignoring other people’s traditions.
Reisinger 2009 raises quite important question concerning tourism and inter-cultural communication, which is whether tourist should assimilate to the host people following their traditions or host people should take into account tourists’ culture peculiarities (Reisinger 2009, p.196).
This disputable question should be regarded in terms of principles of mutual respect and understanding. Before visiting a country tourists should learn some details about cultural peculiarities of people living in that country, and try to follow their traditions or at least try to avoid violating major cultural rules or traditions.
Thus, the question of cross-cultural communication difficulties remains open, since there are many ways of considering this problem. However, to avoid inter-cultural misunderstanding tourists should learn not only the language of the host country but its main rules and traditions. Thus, many scholars provide various evidences proving that non-verbal communication plays significant role in reaching understanding between people of different languages and cultures.
Argyle,M 1975, ‘Non-Verbal Communication in Human Social Interaction’, in Non-Verbal Communication, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, pp. 243-268.
Cohen, E 2004 Contemporary Tourism: Diversity and Change, Elsevier B.V., Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Esposito, A, Bratanic, M, Keller, E, Marinaro, M 2007, Fundamentals of Verbal and Nonverbal Communication and the Biometric Issue, IOS Press, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Reisinger,Y & Turner, LW 2003, Cross-Cultural Behaviour in Tourism: Concepts and Analysis, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Reisinger, Y 2009, ‘Cultural Influences on Intercultural Communication’, in International Tourism: Cultures and Behaviour, Butterworth-Heinemann, Jordan Hill, Oxford, United Kingdom, Chapter 7, pp. 165-198.
Theobald, WF 1998, Global Tourism, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, United Kingdom.