Nonverbal communication, such as the use of gestures, helps to complement and reinforce meanings of verbal messages. However, when communicating with people from cultures that are different from your own, it is important to understand possible contradictions in the meanings of gestures such as finger signals and head movements. Finger signals in different countries have different meanings. Raising one hand with fingers extended upward, and palm facing outward commonly means “Stop! ” among most culture. However, people of Greek or Turkish origin may also read it as a rude and angry gesture of dismissal.
In the United States and the United Kingdom, raising the thumb from a clenched fist, or the “thumbs up” signal, and making a circle with the index finger and thumb, suggests positive or affirmative meanings. However, people from regions such as Iran, the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and Latin America, may regard these gestures as obscene. Head movements vary from culture to culture. For most culture, shaking the head from side to side indicates a negative reply, while nodding the head is an affirmative gesture.
However, in Albania and Bulgaria there is reversal of meaning of “no” and “yes” head gestures. Japanese people may nod their head as a casual way of greeting someone, or use a deeper bow as a sign of respect. Westerners may find this gesture too flattering for everyday use. Body signals also have various meanings in different culture. Keeping your hands in your pockets when talking to someone may seem a relaxed and casual gesture to people from North America or the United Kingdom, but to Turkish people, it may signify disrespect.
Finger, head and body signals play diverse roles in different culture. A gesture may mean something complimentary in one culture, but is highly offensive in another. There are no right or wrong signals, only cultural differences. An understanding of how different culture varies enables smooth and pleasant communications, and helps to avoid embarrassment. Finally, if we want to succeed in international relationships, it’s important to understand the meaning of gestures in other culture. We should be aware of these differences, understand, respect and accept them, not ignoring them.