High Context Cultures

According to the numerous publications and studies that describe the differences between high and low context cultures, France is considered to have a high context culture. As someone who is currently living in Paris, France and who has had interactions with the locals, I can confidently agree with the experts.

Today I will be discussing the differences between the high and low context cultures regarding communication. I read that in France, people tend to be more implicit, indirect, and subtle when communicating, of which I found to be true. On the other hand, Americans are usually concise, explicit, simple, and clear when communicating. These differences did catch me by surprise because, initially, I thought the mode of communication was the opposite. In other words, I thought the French were more straightforward when communicating, compared to Americans.

The French tend to be more indirect and subtle in conversation when they are speaking to someone they have established a long term relationship with. In other words, when knowing that person for a long time, they expect not to say things in conversation always directly. That is, they expect that person to understand through either gestures, eye movement, tone of voice, and facial expressions, the message they are trying to get across. With all the people that I have solidified a relationship with either at work or outside of work, they all seemed to use these gestures which I have found extremely interesting as I am someone who has grown up in a low context culture.

I would say that I have solidified a good relationship with my boss. I think we both understand each other in conversation especially since I have learned his way of communication.

Last week at Radio RCJ the work we were given was stressful, yet extremely interesting and fun. It was the week where both Violette and I had to travel to Orléans, France, which is just an hour from Paris, for a report. We were supposed to interview the guides and visitors of the Museum of Cercil to gain information about how the visitors had learned or are learning about the historical, yet tragic moment in history for Jews, the round-up at the Vel d’Hiv. Before leaving, we have to communicate with our boss about what kind of questions we should ask, how the microphone worked etc. When communicating with him, I noticed that he would either use hand gestures, facial expressions, or small words to respond to my questions

I remember having this exchange with my boss of which I found to be a sign of high context communication. I will translate the conversation in English so everyone can understand my example.

– “Hi Rudy, can you show us how to use the microphone so it can properly function during the interviews?”

– *Head nod*

Here you can see how implicit this conversation was between me and my boss, Rudy. In other words, he did not verbally communicate his answer to my question, but instead he just gave me a simple head nod. In the United States, this would often not be the case because the boss would give you a verbal response– maybe adding more detail to the response. Before I got to know the culture of communication in France, I thought a simple head nod was considered to be a little cold. However, the more that I was exposed to this form of communication, the less it surprised me.

I have noticed the same form of communication among my friends and colleagues here in Paris. In general, the French are extremely expressive in conversation, so they use gestures or facial expressions. When I talk to my friends, for example, they use the movement of their eyebrows or small phrases or words such as “rhoo” to communicate disapproval toward something. It was something that took some time to get used to because I did not know entirely what these gestures meant in conversation. To be completely honest, I had to watch some videos on Youtube or Instagram to understand what exactly these cues meant in conversation.

To say the least, it is incredibly interesting to be a spectator in a foreign country because you absorb so much information about the culture, people, language, and behavior. Behavior and communication in a high context country is something that I have never been exposed to. Thus, I am glad that I get to experience different forms of communication because it has truly opened my eyes to the ways different people communicate in the world.