Nonverbal communication is an important aspect of human interaction for several reasons.  First, research has indicated that a person will believe nonverbal cues rather than explicit verbal messages when the two are in conflict with each other.  Next, nonverbal cues are responsible for initiating first impressions of people.  Finally, nonverbal communications are not easily controlled consciously making them a valuable tool when trying to understand the meaning of a message related by a person from a different culture then your own.  Nonverbal cues include, but are not limited to attire (clothing), posture, gestures, eye contact and gaze, touch, personal space and finally time.  As you will see, the people of Mexico are unique in communicating through nonverbal cues.

The people of Mexico have a dress that is all their own; it is a mix between what would be worn in many of the large cities of North America and Europe and traditional garments of the smaller Mexican village people.  Indeed, in the larger cities of Mexico, the dress is conservative and colors are subdued.  Men wear hats, but the women generally do not because of a custom started by the Revolution of 1910, when the wearing of hats by women in Mexico was considered too European.  In addition, due to the high importance of family, older women are frequently seen wearing black as a sign of mourning.  A traditionally scarf called the rebozo is still worn by many urban women either as a sweater or as shawl.

The attire of the Mexican countryman has not changed much over the years, as has his urban counterpart.  Blue jeans or trousers, white tee shirts, and sombreros are the traditional dress for men while women where huipils a kind of tunic that is long and embroidered.  Factory-made clothing or garments made in the home from factory-produced materials are increasingly worn by both sexes, although cotton and wool are still spun and woven by hand in rural areas where Indian culture predominates.

The people of Mexico place a lot of emphasis on present time.  They are not in a hurry to get things done and often are engaged in many tasks at once.  This attitude is reflected in the Mexican posture.  Frequently, it is a hunched over position with the head bent forward and the body in a relaxed position.  This is opposite, however, when it comes to gesturing.  Here, Mexicans can be very animated when they interact signaling an emphasis on storytelling and myths.

Eye Gaze
Eye contact or gaze is one of the most effective nonverbal cues available because of the limitlessness of its ability to convey messages.  Direct, penetrating, sincere, attentiveness, awkwardness, and trusting are just a few of the nonverbal messages a person can convey with his or her eyes.  People from Mexico often refrain from making direct eye contact as a sign of respect.  This is due in part to role of elders in Mexican society, being viewed as wise and full of worldly knowledge.  This socialization process starts in childhood when children are taught to avert their gaze as a sign of attentiveness and respect. 

Touch is the earliest sense to mature in infants.  One’s culture teaches the rules of touching at an early age; whether or not to shake hands, embrace with a hug or kiss, be intimate with someone.  Physical contact, of course, varies from culture to culture.  In Mexico, touching or embracing is part of everyday life.  Men will often greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks are a hearty hug and pat on the back.  This is an important part of communication in Mexican society.  It displays the value that all are equal, all are welcome, and all are Mexicans. 

The following two nonverbal cues differ from the ones discussed above; that is, the ones that are primarily produced by the body.  Personal space  and time are nonverbal cues that the individual combines with the setting.  They are as much a part of communication as the words that are spoken.

Personal Space
Personal space is the invisible boundary surrounding your body.  More often, it is called a “comfort zone.”  You decide who may and may not enter this zone.  It is not surprising then when considering Mexican attitudes toward touch that one finds when discussing the issue of personal space, the people of Mexico are on the lower end.  In other words, they prefer a closeness of range when engaged in conversation.  It signals a sort of importance and attentiveness to the matter being discussed.



As stated before, the people of Mexico are present oriented when concerning time.  The emphasis is on living in the moment, impulsive, and spontaneous.  Mexicans tend to have a more relaxed and casual lifestyle.  According to the two divisions of time that Hall proposes (either M-time or P-time), the Mexican lifestyle more closely resembles P-time or polychronic time.  This approach to time explains why conversations are often interrupted; time is less of a tangible and people come before schedules. 

World View & Cultural ClassificationTraditions, Holidays, Folklore, Myths
Values, Proverbs & Language * Nonverbal Issues
Communication within Business Contexts
* Communication within Education Contexts
Improving Intercultural Competence * Bibliography * Project Team
Authors: Carrie Philipchuck, Shaun Tuttle, Shelonda Moreland

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  May 12, 2001