Journal of Intercultural Communication, issue 1, 1999

Charles McHugh

Reaction Profiles by Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese on ‘Skeletons in the Family Closet’ Topics


Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese (N=250) rated 57 random proposed conversation topics on a five-point scale (i.e., very good, good, neutral, bad, very bad) to a same-culture, same-sex school friend. Five factors emerge and are characterized as: Familial Biographical Data, Skeletons in the Family Closet, Small Talk Topics, Personal Information Topics, and Intimate Relations Topics. For the 17 topics included in Factor Two, Skeletons in the Family Closet, about 51% of Americans appraise them at neutral, good or very good. Among the Asians, Thais report the lowest percentage at about 22% and Chinese the highest at about 35%. On those topics appraised as either bad or very bad, subjects then selected one of three possible reactions: avoidance, false information, or silence. Thai and Vietnamese favor silence, choosing it at about 38% of the time, while Chinese and Japanese select avoidance, at about 40%, as the preferred reaction. These results suggest that native English speakers could encounter a higher than expected frequency of avoidance and silence rejection strategies when communicating with Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese on some topics deemed appropriate among Americans.

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