People of European descent (tend)to interpret lack of direct eye contact as indicating evasiveness... direct eye contact among the Cree and Ojibway of northwestern Ontario was a sign of disrespect as 'you only look inferiors straight in the eye.'
Looking straight into someone's eyes is like taking a peak into their thoughts, and I just don't feel comfortable with it.
If you find yourself on foot, face-to-face with a bear, never look it straight in the eye, because the animal's brain is hard-wired to interpret direct eye contact as aggression.
In many Native American cultures the eyes are believed to be the window to the soul. If you look someone directly in the eye, you could steal their soul. Or they could steal yours. In order to avoid inadvertent soul loss/theft, eye contact may be avoided.
Posts from an online discussion regarding cultural variance in eye contact.
Among Hispanics, avoidance of direct eye contact is sometimes seen as a sign of attentiveness and respect, while sustained direct eye contact may be interpreted as a challenge to authority.
(Native Americans regard) direct prolonged eye contact as invasive. Its avoidance is practiced to protect the personal autonomy of the interactors. (In Latino culture), direct eye contact is often viewed as disrespectful.
Non-verbal communication is a very important part of human communication, and can be a major source of difficulty for language learners in a cross-cultural situation.
Sit on a park bench, read a book and laugh aloud at the funny parts. * Walk carefully balanced along the edge of a fountain. * Strike poses while perched on a rock or ledge. * In the middle of an open plaza, stretch out your arms and spin. If you do any of the above, people will pretend you are invisible. Guaranteed.
Yawns exposing teeth are often threats, as is direct eye contact. Apparently this can cause problems when looking at baboons with binoculars: the front lenses look like bigger than normal eyes and this is seen as the observer being very aggressive.
In American culture, looking someone straight in the eye is a statement of open and honest communication. In some other cultures, looking a person in the eye is a sign of disrespect.
On facial expression, gaze, posture and proximity, gestures, and physical appearance. 'Although gaze avoidance deprives us of valuable information about how others respond, this may be normative in some cultures and in certain situations.'
In Luo in Kenya one should not look at one's mother-in-law; in Nigeria one should not look at a high-status person; amongst some South American Indians during conversation one should not look at the other person...
When you are dealing with Japanese and they seemingly avoid looking you in the eye, far from being rude or untrustworthy, they are being polite and non-confrontational.