Nabil, Casper and two other boys are playing near the bicycle shed at school. Casper is playing with the doorknob and suddenly it breaks! Casper drops it and the boys run away. A teacher finds out and he asks the boys what has happened. None of them says anything. Three sets of eyes look at the teacher innocently while Nabil casts his eyes down to the ground.
Nabil: Oh my, the teacher is really angry; he’s looking so sternly! I will show my respect to him and hope his anger will pass soon. I know it was Casper who broke the doorknob but of course I won’t tell, Casper is my friend.
Teacher: Look at that, Nabil is afraid to look at me! I’m sure he has something to hide. It must be him who broke the doorknob, I really don’t trust this little boy.
Parents or teachers in Luxembourg ask children to look them in the eye when they have something serious to say. This way they can get through to the other person, they see the ‘truth’ in their eyes. Nabil was taught that it is respectful to cast your eyes down, and disrespectful to look the teacher in his eyes. The teacher has a different interpretation: to him it looks as if Nabil is trying to hide something, so automatically he will put the blame on him.
What are possible solutions?
In the Luxembourg it is not disrespectful to look an adult or a person with authority in the eye and Nabil might be able to try this next time. This is true for a worker and his/her boss or manager as well; or the director of the asylum center. It is usually appreciated if you look the other person in the eye, also a person of authority. The teacher of Nabil might understand that Nabil has learned to cast his eyes down and this has nothing to do with hiding something.
Luxembourg is a country with a relatively low power distance (PDI -) while Nabil is from a country with high power distance (PDI +). In a high PDI country it is a sign of disrespect if the subordinate, or the younger person, looks the superior straight into the eye. This is considered arrogant. In the lower PDI Luxembourgish culture direct communication between superior and subordinate is preferred, and both should be open and transparent. Eye contact is one way to be open and if this is not done, people in Luxembourg often believe the other has something to hide and they associate it with guilt.