Nonverbal Taboos: Definition & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: The Importance of Space in Nonverbal Communication

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Nonverbal Taboos
  • 1:34 Clothing Taboos
  • 2:40 Action Taboos
  • 3:40 Expression Taboos
  • 4:50 Gesture Taboos
  • 6:00 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, explore the ways in which nonverbal taboos can influence communication, and discover some common examples. Then test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Nonverbal Taboos

Don't do that. Why not? Because it's not polite. In the world of communication, some things are simply rude. Call someone a name? That's mean. Make a sarcastic comment? Rude. Laugh when someone trips on a banana peel? Okay, well, that sounds kinda funny, but most likely would be seen as impolite.

Something that evokes a breach of good manners is called a taboo and every culture has 'em. In terms of communication, taboos can actually be broken by more than just what you say aloud. Nonverbal communication, or the communicating of information without speaking, is something we are constantly doing, whether we're aware of it or not. We roll our eyes, cross our arms, look distracted. These communicate something about ourselves, something that other people pick up on. More than half of communication is nonverbal, so of course some of the most important social no-no's don't require you to say anything wrong; you just have to do something wrong.

Breaking a taboo can be a minor annoyance or a serious offense, and it can result in people rolling their eyes or chasing you out of town on a rail. It all depends on how seriously a culture feels about that taboo. This is why it's important to understand cultures before you visit them, but not today. Today, we are going to travel the world breaking nonverbal taboos. In other words, get it out of your system now before traveling for real.

Clothing Taboos

One of the first things many people notice about you is your clothing. This is true in most cultures and there are several taboos involved in what not to wear. And here we are in sunny Italy. Ah, bella Roma, home of a thousand gorgeous cathedrals and some of the greatest art in the world. Want to go see? Well, ya can't. Sorry, but those exposed shoulders, shorts and sandals mean that you aren't allowed in the cathedral; exposed legs are traditionally offensive in church.

Taboos are based in cultural values, which mean that not only are they often different everywhere you go, they also change over time. And through the magic of traveling with a virtual tour group, we've now arrived in ancient China, just in time for a wedding! But whatever you do, don't wear white. White was the color of clothing used for funerals; black was the color for weddings. This changed over time, and in modern China white wedding dresses are common, largely thanks to Western influence.

Action Taboos

Wearing the wrong things sends strong nonverbal messages that you either don't belong or don't care enough to respect the cultural values of other people. Well, guess what? Your actions can do this, too! Manners are almost always tied to how we behave in public.

And with that, we have arrived in Morocco, just in time for the religious festival of Ramadan! And you're still immodestly dressed in a place where religious values dictate covering your body. Well, now you're being really rude. Why? Because you are eating in public during Ramadan. Do you know one of the ways Ramadan is celebrated in Morocco? By fasting. Yes, while the people of Morocco are fasting in observance of a religious holiday, you are eating in public, which is a taboo and seen as very rude. Just because the people of Morocco are too polite to kick you out, doesn't mean they're not offended. Keep that in mind.

Expression Taboos

Okay, we've offended people through our dress and our actions, what's next on our itinerary? Ah, expressions. Even when communicating verbally, people expect you to react a certain way. Do you gasp, laugh, cry openly and loudly for everyone to see? Each of those are genuinely how some cultures expect you to react to certain news. Failure to do so is not only confusing but often offensive.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account