Every culture has their thing – their stereotype, the one that gets played up in Hollywood and earns comments when travelers live up to those assumptions. Several years ago, I traveled through central Europe with a good friend who had lived abroad for a long time, and when I asked her how people spotted American travelers (in hopes of avoiding acting in a way that furthered the stereotype of the brash American tourist), her answer surprised me. She told me that Americans smile far more than people from other cultures.
It turns out that it’s not just an anecdotal truth, either. An international group of researchers published a 2015 study that found there’s a reason for our big ol’ smiles: people from countries with a history of high immigration numbers tend to rely more on nonverbal communication.
Basically, back in the day, our Sicilian ancestors wanted to be able to talk to our German ancestors, but they didn’t speak the same language. So they relied on body language – a smile that said we could be friends, we could do business, we’re neighbors so come on over and buy my goods, etc.
Makes sense, right?
After interviewing people from 32 different countries with varying diversity rates, the study concluded that emotional expressiveness correlated with more diverse populations.
So why do we still smile so big over here?
Well, there’s an answer for that, too. People from countries that place a high value on emotions like excitement, enthusiasm, and high energy smile wider than people from places who don’t assign so much value to those feelings. The cultural differences when it comes to smiling – and how it makes people feel differently depending on where they’re from – have even caused trouble for American companies like Walmart and McDonalds when they attempted to expand overseas.
All of this to say that, when traveling abroad, you might want to adjust your smile so you don’t freak people out. Unless that’s your thing.
You do you, Americans. You always have.
h/t: The Atlantic
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