Relating all my slip-ups and pitfalls with Fiji body language would fill a slim volume - now that's an idea! So in this post I'll tell you about one simple facial movement Fijians use constantly. Australians use the same movement, but with a very different meaning. Therein lies the problem!
When I first arrived in Fiji to work at the University of the South Pacific (USP) I discussed ideas and plans with Fijian colleagues every day. I noticed that Fijians maintained eye contact and gave me their focused attention while I spoke. Unlike Aussies, Fijians never interrupt - it's considered very rude. I also noticed that they raise their eyebrows frequently while listening. To Australians, a lift of the eyebrows signals surprise, even astonishment. 'Really?' or a similar expression might accompany the lifted brows.
The problem was, we were often talking about routine class matters and I couldn't understand how my remarks were surprising. In the end, as I got to know people, I plucked up courage to ask my closest colleague directly. Amid laughter and some delight at having bamboozled me, she solved the mystery.
"We raise our eyebrows when we agree with what we're hearing. It simply means Yes, I think so too."
In Death on Paradise Island, I try to give readers a taste of Fijian body language by showing the Fijian characters' gestures. I hope that works.
Have you ever been confused by cultural body language? I'd love to hear about it- just leave a comment below or send me an email.
I'll leave you with happy USP students from Rotuma waiting to dance at Open Day.