Understanding Personal Space: Touch

In some cultures, the gesture of touch is an additional way of communicating feelings. Of course, customs of physical contact vary with the situation and the relationship of the people. In some cultures, body contact from a stranger or even an acquaintance may make people feel uncomfortable.

Go through the following list, check yes or no for each question, then discuss your answers in small groups. Do the exercise twice, the first time for U.S./Canadian cultures, the second time for your culture. (There may be more than one correct answer.)

If an acquaintance is feeling bad, can you show sympathy by putting your hand on his or her shoulder?

Yes No

If you touch an acquaintance with your left hand instead of the right, might he or she feel insulted?

Yes No

In public, is it all right to hold hands with a close friend of the opposite sex?

Yes No


Exercise taken from Cross-Cultural Communication: A Competency-Based Listening/Speaking Book










Answers to Touch Exercise

1. Putting a hand on someone's shoulder is a common gesture of sympathy in the United States and Canada. But in other cultures such body contact may not be welcome.

2. In the United States or Canada, the use of the left hand has no special meaning. Some people use that hand more just because they are left-handed. In some cultures, however, you should not touch an acquaintance with the left hand.

3. Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, and close friends of the opposite sex may walk hand in hand in the United States or Canada. But if you hold hands with someone of the same sex (except a child or a weak person who needs help), people may look at you funny.