One way in which I imperceptibly adjusted to life in China is in norms around eye contact. How do I know that this is the case? Simple. In my interactions with people here in the US I find that during conversations, I will glance at the person with whom I am speaking only to find that they are standing pretty close with their eyes fixed on me, staring right into my eyes. The whole thing makes me feel pretty confused and uncomfortable, actually. At first I just wonder why they are staring at me (is there food in my teeth? pen on my face?) but then I realize it is probably just a bit of cross-cultural trouble. All the same I have a hard time looking back at them for an extended period even though I have a sense that is exactly what I should be doing.
I did wonder if it was just me being strange but I asked Jason about it and he said that he is having the same experience – feeling overwhelmed by the eye contact.
So, if you are speaking with me and I seem distant or distracted because I am not looking at you, don’t take it personally.