The Impact of COVID-19 On Cross-Cultural Communication
The COVID-19 pandemic may have led to enforced physical distancing among much of the world’s population, but in some ways, people have been brought closer together than ever before.
Isolation has become a universal experience, forcing people to find new ways to communicate. It’s been both fascinating and heartwarming to see how cultural barriers have been broken down, as these universal symbols have been adopted to bring communities together amid such challenging times.
The adoption of alternative greetings
At the beginning of March 2020, handshakes began to be discouraged in a bid to limit the spread of infection, with world leaders and members of the British Royal Family quickly adopting alternatives to set an example.
The Namaste greeting, hailing from Hindu culture, became a popular alternative, with figures including HRH Prince Charles adopting this as their chosen alternative greeting. ‘Namaste’ translates as ‘I bow to the divine in you’, which gives it a somewhat grander element than the handshake. It will certainly be interesting to see whether this example of communication borrowed from another language is adopted more widely in the future, as our concepts of hygiene and physical distancing change.
Other alternative greetings included bumping elbows (as US President Donald Trump was seen doing), and the Vulcan salute from the Star Trek franchise, which involves spacing the fingers to create a V shape between the middle and ring fingers.
While many may think this greeting has simply been adopted from popular culture, it is actually inspired by a symbol that represents the Hebrew letter ‘shin’. Spock actor, Leonard Nimoy, adopted the gesture for his part after he recalled seeing it as part of a Jewish ceremony during his childhood. Of course, over the last 50 years, the salute has become synonymous with the phrase ‘live long and prosper’ – words that can take on a whole new meaning amid current circumstances.
Heartwarming, universal symbols
With everyone across the world experiencing the same anxieties and challenges yet not necessarily speaking the same language, there are multiple cases of universal symbols being used to convey messages.
One example is people putting images of rainbows in the windows of their homes to spread colour and positivity in a world that can otherwise feel very dark at the moment. Not only has creating these images proved a good way to keep people occupied and creative, but it’s also become a symbol of love and care – you don’t need to speak the same language as your neighbours to see the image of a rainbow and understand its meaning.
The national round of applause for the NHS that took place across the UK was another example of this. Such is the diversity of the country that not everyone in a street may speak the same language, but everyone can understand the gratitude expressed by communal clapping and cheering. During the Clap for Carers, there were reports of people playing musical instruments and even banging together pots and pans, showing that a message doesn’t need to be verbal for it to be felt and understood far and wide.
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