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Expression of emotions in the Eimai Archipelago

One could easily mistake their expressions for indifference and think that they have a different physiology from the rest of humans. However, a careful observation shows that they can indeed smile, although they most certainly do so at different times and possibly for different reasons than most other cultures.
— From an anonymous travel journal.
  In the eimaui culture, certain kinds of facial expressions are only acceptable in private settings, mainly with friends, family or one's partner. For this reason, they often seem to be emotionless, when in reality they just have other ways of expressing their feelings.  

The emotionful age

Children below five years old are considered to be in their emotionful age, which means that they are not required to keep a relaxed face in public. However, parents and educators are expected to raise them so that when they turn five years old, they start expressing their emotions as an adult.

Relaxed face, expressive brows.
— Typical phrase told to children by their parents.



Contrary to popular beliefs, the eimaii are not actually emotionless and experience their feelings as anybody else, albeit in a different manner, depending on who is around them. They use the so-called Three Circles of Formality, a defining feature of their language and culture: private, limited private or situational, and public. The three circles are concentrical, meaning that everything associated with the public circle is also applied to the private one.  
This is why we hide our feelings and avoid physical contact, Beskra. In doing so, the smiles of our loved ones are a rare and priced gift. Smiles are beautiful and special, so we save them for those who are special to us.
Aiuei d'Eimai, after kissing her partner for the first time.
  The eimaii consider emotional expressions the highest form of intimacy. Nothing is more valuable than a smile from a loved one, and nothing is more offensive than a scowl from a stranger. This is deeply rooted in their religious beliefs, although now everyone follows this tradition, no matter what their beliefs are.   According to their animist beliefs, which go back to before the discovery of the Archipelago, one should avoid externalizing too much their feelings, since they are to humans what sap is to trees. Some scholars theorize that this line, which is not actually written anywhere but part of popular culture, is in fact misinterpreted and that it just means that feelings are what gives energy to humans, not that letting them out is dangerous.   Other scholars, mostly from foreign countries, have a different theory, claiming that they keep their faces expressionless because of the extremely cold climate of the Archipelago. According to these theories, extreme cold makes it more difficult to smile or move other parts of the face. After some generations, this purely practical reason would have been integrated into their culture to the extent of creating a taboo.  


Strange folk, those northerners, always looking at you as if they were more important. Like, can't they just smile? Not even a little bit?
— Pretty much everyone in the world outside the Archipelago
  Emotional expressions can be classified into six categories, detailed below. All of them are acceptable in the private circle.  


Eyebrows are by far the most expressive part of the body in public. They are used to express surprise and disbelief, among other emotions. Slightly raising both eyebrows is used as the public version of smiles, while pointedly frowning them is the equivalent of wrinkling your nose in disgust.


Eyes can be used in limited private circles in different ways, such as rolling them to express exasperation or closing them while breathing soundly to indicate that you are losing your patience. While they are generally not used in public circles, their usage is not frowned upon.


Using your nose to express any kind of feeling is completely forbidden in both public and limited private circles. Doing it in front of other people is almost considered an insult and a violation of one's privacy, especially among adults.


Expressions involving your mouth, such as smiling, are allowed in limited private spaces as long as they are subtle. Subtle means that only the corners of the mouth move and the lips are kept closed.


Shoulders, together with any other body part, can be used to express any emotion in any kind of situation. Some examples include shrugging or sighing.

Spontaneous expressions

Expressions such as laughing or crying are difficult to contain, so, while they should be kept to private circles as much as possible, they are not considered a sign of disrespect as long as the person is trying to contain them. A common way of containing these expressions is trying to keep your mouth shut while using your hand to hide it.

  Summary of proper usage of emotional expressions
Category of expression Public circle Limited private/
situational circle
Private circle
Eyebrows Acceptable Acceptable Acceptable
Eyes Avoid Acceptable Acceptable
Nose Unacceptable Unacceptable Acceptable
Mouth Unacceptable Acceptable (with limits) Acceptable
Shoulders and body Acceptable Acceptable Acceptable
Spontaneous expressions Avoid Avoid Acceptable

Acceptance of foreigners and variation

Since the discovery of the Archipelago, Eimai has been steadily receiving immigrants from all around the world, especially from the Circle of Skafrontse. Most other cultures in Einya don't share this way of expressing emotions, which means that the eimaui people are now used to foreigners smiling broadly in public. Immigrants are not forced to learn this part of the culture, but most of them end up being influenced, especially in the parts that are considered unacceptable in public.   It's worth noting that, because of the geography of the Archipelago, there are cultural differences between islands. This tradition is not equally observed throughout the Archipelago: northern islands tend to be stricter, while southern islands are more flexible (although they still constitute a huge cultural wall for foreigners). In stricter islands, the limited private circle tends to be erased, completely disappearing in some cases. On the other hand, more flexible cultures tend to integrate spontaneous expressions in the limited private circle and quiet rare smiles in the public circle.

Three circles of Formality
Illustration of the Three Circles of Formality

Private circle

Generally speaking, the private circle includes close family (parents, children, siblings and, sometimes, cousins), close friends and one's partner. Being with close friends in a space where other people can see you is not considered private.  

Limited private circle

Also called situational circle, it includes the same people in the private circle but when either the situation takes place in a public location or someone outside the private circle is watching. It is sometimes extended to include extended family or friends who are not very close.  

Public circle

The public circle includes everyone else, both in public or private places. Treating a friend as if they were part of the public circle is considered a form of deep disrespect.


Author's Notes

This article was created during World Ember 2018.   You will notice that a huge part of this world is written in Catalan. However, I have some other articles written in English, tagged as #english. Use the search bar at the top to see them.

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30 Nov, 2018 22:38

I love the anthropology and sociology of this. Although it is different than any society I know about, I think it is actually quite realistic. As far as the English itself, I think it's flawless here. Good work.

1 Dec, 2018 09:27

Thanks for your comment! I definitely had some fun writing it ^^

1 Dec, 2018 01:30

I absolutely love the kind of thought that went into this. There's so much nuance to body language that people tend to take for granted that you've put into this that it almost warrants being a language article instead!   I would highly recommend @mentioning this article whenever describing a character whose body language abides by these rules, as it's something that can shed a deep insight to their culture and upbringing.

  • Appraciate in your comment box should be Appreciate
  • However, a careful observation will show that they can indeed smile: As general feedback, when describing something current or modern try to describe it as if it's actively happening in the moment, and avoid future tense. Present tense is the most active voice which comes across as the most poignant for a reader. For this line, for example, I'd recommend However, careful observation shows that they can indeed smile
  • I like your word emotionful but just want to verify that it's a stylized choice because the correct is emotional. Making it its own special word is great, I'm just making sure it's intended!
  • express their feelings as anybody else: Given the context I think that express should be experience. I think this because you use "albeit", which means you're establishing a contrast, so the clause before it shouldn't be something which agrees with it, so experience would be a stronger clarifying word about them and in context.
  Great article, it inspires me to do something similar!

1 Dec, 2018 09:31

I kind of felt like a sociologist, experimenting with different facial expressions and trying to imagine how a different society might view them hahaha.   Thanks for your comments and language corrections, I'll correct them now! Indeed, I came up with emotionful specifically for this article. All eimaii people are emotional, they just show it in a different way. But kids... they are so full of emotions they can't help smiling all the time! :P

1 Dec, 2018 01:35

Absolutely fascinating! Well done! I especially like how they're all tied to formality based on who you're with and the setting <3

1 Dec, 2018 09:27

Yeah, I want to expand these formality circles to other aspects of their society. We'll see how it goes! Thanks for the comment!

1 Dec, 2018 09:31

Good luck!

1 Dec, 2018 10:47

This is a very well detailed, well designed article! I desperately want to know why the use of a nose is forbidden.

1 Dec, 2018 10:48

Your english is really good. I see Ademal provided a good list of some improvements in that area, so I will focus on less grammar and more on the ideas.   The guide is great, and the formatting is helpful. Your quote block CSS is lovely and vibrant, the use of columns to categorise the sections of the body used to express and how they are used was a really good explanation.   What I felt was missing is why. We really need an explanation of how this evolved. What started this cultural shift that led to this very specific idea on expression and emotion? How universal is this - do all people in the Eimai archipelago abide by them, or are their local variations? Akin to real-life variations on which hand is used to shake in greeting, or types of bows.   Your chart is also really helpful. I feel like you might be best to move the definitions of Private/Situational/Public circle to the sidebar, under that chart, so it has more context however.

1 Dec, 2018 11:34

Thanks for your feedback, it was really useful!   About the why, I hinted at it in AIuei's quote, but yes, an explanation was missing. I've added two paragraphs below the quote in "Reasoning".   About cultural variation, yes, I forgot to describe it! The last paragraph of the article now explains it. What do you think about these them?

1 Dec, 2018 11:32

This is an excellent, interesting part of culture and show so much thought and detail. This is a part of many cultures that are usually sort of unspoken or implied, so it is super-interesting to read. I really enjoyed it! <3   Is there any sort of common counter-cultures in the archipelago? Young people who rebel against the way things are and go out of their way to be loud and emotive? What happens to people who, for one reason or another, cannot contain their emotions? Are they shunned? Exiled? Pitied? :)   Criminals could be another group who deliberately go against it, already being outcasts, maybe?

1 Dec, 2018 11:37

Oh wow, this feedback is interesting! I definitely had though a little of criminals and yes, they don't follow this tradition. You could say that someone is going to rob at you if they smile at you :P   I think it's time for me to move to another article, but I'll keep it in mind and expand the article!   Thanks for your feedback! <3

1 Dec, 2018 11:41

There were groups of basically unemployed Samurai and Ronin during the Tokugawa era who went out of their way to be as outlandish as possible. They dressed weird and gave themselves names like "The All-Gods Gang", so they were definitely trying to stick out and that's what came to mind when I was reading this.   "A smile means they'll rob you" is such a wonderful, excellent thing you just thought of there. It says so much about the place and the people who live there :D   <3

3 Dec, 2018 11:07

Never did I imagine reading such an article on WorldAnvil! I think you might have something truly unique here. Many articles go to explain a culture but they normally can be easily traced to a real-world counterpart. But for the life of me, I can't think of any culture that goes to these extremes! They must have serious problems with mental illness when no one can express themselves.

3 Dec, 2018 19:05

This is probably the most unique approach to a culture I've read so far! Really interesting to think about it, especially since we don't really pay much attention to this in real life most of the time.   What kept me wondering is if there are gestures that are unique to this culture? Most of the examples you mentioned seem to have a similar meaning in other cultures as well.   Also, I noticed that while most of the time you used eimaii, but twice you used eimaui - typo or is there a difference between the two?

3 Dec, 2018 20:20

Hi!   I haven't really thought about other gestures (I assume you mean body language like with your hands, arms, etc.), but this is definitely in my to-do list! Probably for the "2.0 version" of the article :)   Eimaui is singular, while eimaii. I wasn't sure which one was the correct one in some cases, so I might have messed up in some parts!   Thanks for the read, I really appreciate it! <3