Are The Five Love Languages Relevant In Other Countries?

Do ‘words of affirmation’ and ‘quality time’ mean the same thing everywhere in the world? Truth be told, they don’t even mean the same thing to individual people living in the same country.
person giving a flower to another person

Is one of your primary love languages “acts of service”, or do you prefer to show how much you care by spending quality time with the people you love? In the realm of the relationship and self-help aisle, Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages has been a bit of a cultural institution since its publication in 1995, providing an oft-referenced framework for how humans communicate affection. But whose culture are we talking about, exactly? Are international love languages uniform in their expression, or does this model really only work in the context of a Western outlook?

Chapman’s book has been translated into more than 50 languages, and as he points out on his website, “in almost every culture, the book has become the bestseller of the publisher. This leads me to believe that these five fundamental ways of expressing love are universal.”

He acknowledges that while the languages tend to hold up pretty consistently, the dialects can vary across cultures.

We here at Babbel happen to profoundly enjoy discussions about languages and dialects, so let’s explore a little further. Here are the five allegedly international love languages and how they may differ from culture to culture.

The Culture Of Love Languages Around The World

Words Of Affirmation

If you prefer to communicate your love verbally, then you’re likely the kind of person who needs to say (and hear) things like “I love you” and “Thank you for being such a good friend.” Other people might prefer to communicate this without words explicitly, but you really value people saying these things directly to you.

These kinds of direct declarations can be a little awkward and inappropriate in some Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, however. In these regions, hearing your comments indirectly from a third party might be a more welcome gesture. Additionally, many cultures shy away from saying “I love you” to someone unless you really, really, really mean it (often because their version of “love” can have weightier implications).

Acts Of Service

If you’re into acts of service, you probably vibe with the sentiment that actions speak louder than words. Taking your partner’s bike to the shop when they’re having a stressful week is your favorite way of showing you care, and you appreciate it more when people show up meaningfully for you — often in ways that might not necessarily be fun or enjoyable for them.

In America, acts of service often carries a more individualized connotation (“I’ll wash the dishes for you tonight so you can rest”). But in cultures that are more collectivist and family-centric (like many Asian cultures), an act of service could involve doing something for one’s mother or father to demonstrate your willingness to participate in your partner’s family life.

Receiving Gifts

Some people could care less about presents. For others, gifts are everything. And this doesn’t have to be a totally shallow preoccupation either.

Though this does seem like one of the more obvious manifestations of our rampant consumer culture, we could dig a little further into this. After all, gifts don’t have to be expensive — they are merely a tangible way of showing someone that you’ve taken the time to understand what they enjoy and value.

In Russia, it’s practically unthinkable to show up to someone’s home without a gift in tow, but the rules for gift-giving vary widely around the world. Suffice it to say that simply providing for someone is also a way of showing you care.

Quality Time

For those who prioritize quality time, it’s not so much about saying, doing or giving as it is about just “being.” Quality time can mean different things to different people, but in general, this has more to do with simply enjoying one another’s company and making time for them in your busy life.

In America, this often takes the form of sharing meals and drinks, or watching movies and TV shows together. “Breaking bread” is probably the one particular iteration of this love language that’s common to all cultures across the world, but the manner in which it’s done can vary. For instance, it’s common in many Western cultures to simply meet out at a restaurant. But in other countries, it would be considered rude to not serve someone food you prepared yourself when they come to visit.

Physical Touch

Some people say it best through physical touch, which can involve everything from sex to hugs, kisses and shoulder rubs. Not everyone prioritizes these things the same way, but if physical touch is your primary love language, you would probably wither without it.

Physical touch is especially important in Latin American cultures, and it’s also implicated in the European cheek-kissing custom. However, it goes without saying that public displays of affection aren’t as welcomed in some parts of the world as they are in, say, the United States or Brazil. In many parts of the Middle East, it would be frowned-upon to hold hands in public or even hug a sibling.

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