Body Language and What It Means in Other Countries
Non-verbal communication and body language is an important part of every language’s means of communicating with one another – these include hand gestures, eye contact, arm movements and the like. However, the distinct contrast is the way in which these gestures are interpreted across different cultures/languages.
For example, one gesture that may be seen as commonplace and perfectly acceptable in one language may be seen as disrespectful in another.
“Come here” finger gesture – this gesture is commonly used in the USA and the UK to call someone over, however in some parts of Asia this is seen as very offensive and rude, as if beckoning a dog over.
Eye contact/gaze – in Western culture, eye contact is seen as you being attentive, considerate and respectful. However, in many cultures such as Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American and Hispanic, eye contact is seen as impolite and rude – also, lack of eye contact does not mean that the other person is not paying attention.
Affective vs. Neutral – ‘Affective’ countries are those where emotions are often displayed freely and strongly e.g. laughing, smiling, crying. ‘Neutral’ countries are those where emotions are often controlled and subdued.
Examples of attentive countries are Italy, France and USA and examples of neutral countries/countries that least accept emotional reactions are Norway, UK and Switzerland.
Expressive countries often show their feelings and emotions to receive a direct emotional response such as “I feel this too”. Whereas in neutral countries when someone gives a neutral opinion, an indirect response is anticipated, “I agree”.
Nodding – In Western Culture, nodding is a way of saying ‘yes’ or ‘I agree’ when communicating with someone. However this may not be the case in the Middle East where the direction of the nod determines the message, where nodding your head down means ‘I agree’, but nodding your head up is a sign of disagreement.
‘OK’ finger signal – this finger signal which is made by forming a circle with the thumb and index finger is known in Western Culture as a way of saying ‘OK’, however in some countries this refers to money, and it is also very offensive in other countries.