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Cultural Differences in Body Language

Categories: Body Language

Do you understand what I am doing? (thumbs up to the side– Hitch hiking). When I do this, the majority of you would think it indicates “excellent job”. However in the middle east, for instance in Iran, it’s an insult similar to “the middle finger”. Great evening Madam Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests, tonight let’s look at body movement in different cultures. Do you agree that gestures can communicate as successfully as words? I concur. Some might argue, it perhaps even more than words.

Nevertheless we should be aware different culture has various body movement.

For that reason, in our individual and service lives, mindful factor to consider needs to be given to whom we are with and where they are from. A concern that we might ask is; do we anticipate other cultures to adapt to our custom-mades and procedure, or are we going to make an extra effort to find out more about how they prefer to interact? It wouldn’t be the very first time that someone who wasn’t familiar with the interaction custom-mades of another country, discovered themselves in a rather embarrassing scenario.

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Several years earlier, President Richard Nixon showed up in a foreign nation. Upon his arrival, he stood at the top of the stairs leading from his airplane door, and overlooked the welcoming crowd collected below him. He smiled and happily raised both hands high in the air, palms dealing with outward and offered a gesture of his trademark famous “Peace” sign (as he had actually done lot of times prior to while taking a trip abroad).

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However the crown immediately began to mock and hiss at the President, and he discovered himself on the receiving end of a hostile and rude welcome.

Could you imagine how he felt? The reason was because in the country he was going to, the 2 fingered, palms outward “Peace” indication, which was appropriate in North America, was an absolutely offensive gesture to the regional individuals in that African nation. This would have been the equivalent of a president from another country going to New Zealand, and with a smile, “turned the bird” which in their country might have indicated “greetings”. As a member of the audience, how might you respond?

In North America, a simple “thumbs up” gesture can mean that things are “great” or a hitchhiking sign which indicates “I need a ride”. However, in Greece, this gesture signifies “up yours” when accompanied with a rapid upward and slower downward motion. The gesture for YES is often thought to be universal, however in India they wobble their heads from side to side to say yes. Correct me if I’m wrong my Indian friends. There are also variations in saying no. In Greece they toss their head up.

In Japan, they wave their hands in front of their nose like ur gesture for stinky. Or, how about the “OK” sign where the index finger and the thumb connect to make an “O” shape and the three remaining fingers point up and slightly flare out. Although acceptable in Western culture to signal that things are “A-OK”, in Russia or Turkey, this gesture can represent a sexual insult. specifically an orifice (that’s as far as I’ll go with that). In China you may see two men walk hand in hand or with an arm around another’s shoulder. This is a sign of friendship. However, the situation is regarded as homosexual in American culture.

In some countries such as France or Italy, it is acceptable to exchange a kiss on one or both cheeks while shaking hands when greeting one another. In other countries such as Japan, this type of behavior is considered impolite as the Japanese are considered to be a “non-touch” society relative to other cultures. The Japanese have a respectful custom to bow to each other. The most senior status person bows the least and the least status person having to bow first and display the deepest bend from the waist. Business cards are exchanged and read first in a complex formality.

This ritual is to determine the seniority, position or rank of everyone in the room first. Then the bowing gesture commences based on the information read. For example, let’s say Tony Cooper is the CEO of Mitsubishi Motors in Japan. I am a small department manager from Fontera…the process is: So as you can see, it is really important to know your audience. If you are traveling to other countries, you need to be aware that some of the most commonly acceptable gestures at home can have a completely different meaning to someone from abroad.

Demonstrating a sound knowledge of the cultural differences in nonverbal communication will get you noticed and others will appreciate that you are both respectful and prepared. Tonight you’ve learnt as least one thing: be careful if you thumb a ride in Greece O Take the time and invest in a little research to become culturally educated. By doing this you will be able to: Save the embarrassment. (i. e. Be careful if you thumb a ride in Greece O) Gain the competitive edge.

A little research can go a long way prior to traveling abroad on business. Surely it helps if you are willing to make an extra effort to learn more about how they prefer to communicate. As the saying goes, “In Rome, do like the Romans do”. Get to know your audience and their customs. Remember in business, it’s about being prepared and establishing rapport quickly. Understanding body language in different culture might be the very thing that tips the scales in your favor and will give you the competitive edge you’re looking for.

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Cultural Differences in Body Language. (2016, Nov 24). Retrieved from

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