Language in Society

Research Article

Communication of respect in interethnic service encounters

Benjamin Baileya1

a1 Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1553,


Divergent practices for displaying respect in face-to-face interaction are an ongoing cause of tension in the US between immigrant Korean retailers and their African American customers. Communicative practices in service encounters involving Korean customers contrast sharply with those involving African American customers in 25 liquor store encounters that were videotaped and transcribed for analysis. The relative restraint of immigrant Korean storekeepers in these encounters is perceived by many African Americans as a sign of racism, while the relatively personable involvement of African Americans is perceived by many storekeepers as disrespectful imposition. These contrasting interactional practices reflect differing concepts of the relationship between customer and storekeeper, and different ideas about the speech activities that are appropriate in service encounters. (Intercultural communication, respect, service encounters, African Americans, Koreans)