Body Language: A Surprise

Every time I enter a crowded elevator or the hotel breakfast room it happens. Immediately everyone shrinks slightly and turns away from me, a subtle but noticeable shift. As a non-Japanese travelling most mostly among nationals I’m not sure how, but I immediately understand the situation.

My body, on the other hand, responds with visceral shock. When I tell the story, Westerners respond the same way: How horrible. Yet from the moment it first happened my intuition understood something else.

The gesture is a lovely and touching gift. In a crowded society where personal space is at a premium, people demonstrate their good manners by making themselves a little smaller and turning away.

By doing so, they tacitly say: Hai dozo. Please come in. There is room for you. See? We’ve all tightened a little to fit you in. Please, don’t worry; we won’t intrude on you. Please, be at ease.

How easily I might have mistaken their readiness to include me for rejection.

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One Response to Body Language: A Surprise

  1. Ron Berg says:

    In African culture, missionaries explained to me, it is expected that people will give each other privacy. In our culture it is more likely that we find it necessary to take our privacy.

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