The majority of communication is nonverbal. Nonverbal communication can reinforce, substitute, or contradict verbal behaviors. The meaning of nonverbal behaviors can change depending on the culture that one is in.
Chronemics is the concept of time and the rules that govern its use. The U.S. has more of a monochromic concept of time, which is that time can be gained or lost. When spending some time here in Spain, I had to adjust a whole new concept of time. Spain has more of a polychronic concept of time that sees it as circular and more holistic. Time here can never be lost or gained, it just is. The concept of time is money is not seen in the Spaniards’ eyes, which is refreshing. I am still adjusting to this new concept of time, but I prefer it to the hustle and bustle back home. I like that it is expected to sit and chat at a café for hours and focus more on each others’ company rather than watching the time. Spaniards work in order to play. That is one concept that I want to take with me when I return; the idea of leisure.
Eye contact is another nonverbal code that I noticed differences between the U.S. and Spain culture. It communicates meanings about respect and status and often regulates turn taking during interactions. In the U.S. we understand eye contact conveys that we are paying attention and showing respect. We have more eye contact when we are listening, but less when we are the one speaking. However, in Spain, they maintain more eye contact when speaking and less when listening. Another thing that I noticed about difference in eye contact is that people stare more often in Spanish culture. The staring took a bit of getting used to, but it makes it easier for people watching in the park.
One last nonverbal behavior that I found to be different between cultures is proxemics. Proxemics refers to the norms for personal space. This varies culture to culture. Spain is more of a contact culture in which face to face body orientations more often while talking, touch more frequently, and speak in loud voices. American on the other hand is more of a noncontact culture in which people tend to stand father apart when conversing, maintain less eye contact, and touch less often.
It is important to remember that neither culture is right nor wrong, they are just different. After a little time to adapt, nonverbal behaviors will become second nature.