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activities. These touches may be as casual as a brief contact of hands when passing an object, or they may be as formal and prolonged as a physician taking a pulse at the wrist or neck.”14No matter what the reason for touching is, it is important to remember that cultures differ in the overall amount of touching they prefer. People from high-contact cultures such as those in the Middle East, Latin America, and southern Europe touch each other in social conversations much more than do people form noncontact cultures such as Asia and northern Europe. Notice the different uses of touch displayed at an airport in New York City. “A Tongan family (Oceania) formed a circle, wove their arms around each others’ back, and prayed and chanted together. A tearful Bosnian man passionately kissed his sobbing wife. A Japanese couple simply said good-bye and departed without any touch.”15As you can see, even the simple act of saying good-bye to a loved one has cultural overtones. The Japanese do not engage in public display of affection, even if their loved one is leaving for a substantial amount of time. In fact, the Japanese do not have a word for kissing in their language; so they borrowed from English their word for kiss, which is kissu—see Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis from the Topic of Verbal Communication for more information regarding cultures adaptation of words. Cultures also differ in where people can be touched. In Thailand and Malaysia, for instance, “the head should not be touched because it is considered to be sacred and the locus of a person’s spiritual and intellectual powers. In the United States, however, the head is far more likely to be touched.”16 Cultures also vary in their expectations about who touches whom. In Japan, for instance, there are deeply held feelings against the touch of a stranger. These expectations are culture-specific, and even cultures that exist close to one another can have very different norms. Among the Chinese, for instance, shaking hands among people of the opposite sex is perfectly acceptable; among many Malay, it is not. Indeed, for those who practice the Muslim religion, casual touching between members of the opposite sex is strictly forbidden. Both men and women have to cleanse themselves before praying if they happen to make physical contact with someone of the opposite sex. Holding hands, for example, or walking with an arm across someone’s shoulders or around their waist, or even grabbing an elbow to help another cross the street, are all considered socially inappropriate behaviors between men and women. In some places there are legal restrictions against public displays of hugging and kissing—even among married couples. However, this social taboo refers only to opposite-sex touching; it is perfectly acceptable for two women to hold hands or for men to walk arm in
arm. Many U.S. Americans, of course, have the opposite reaction; they react negatively to same-sex touching (particularly among men) but usually do not mind opposite-sex touching.