Body Language in Different Cultures

Culture is the way we live. It is the air we breathe. It is the thoughts we think. It is the clothes we put on. Culture is what shapes our perception. It is the collection of values that sustain and direct our lives.

There are mainly two problems in communicating with people across cultures. The first is inability to note and read the symbols that other cultures display. The second is the tendency to attach to the symbols meanings derived from one’s own culture. In either case there is great potential for serious misunderstanding.

Every culture has its own body language, with gestures that are peculiar to it. Since the meanings of many of our body movements and gestures are culturally determined, somegestures have different meanings in different cultures.

In Greece, waving, and in the Middle East calling someone with the finger, are insults. When a Brazilian taps his head, he is indicating that he is going through a thinking process; but the same gesture stands for ‘Crazy’ in other places. Tapping the nose also has different interpretations: it means ‘keep it secret’ in Britain, hiss when they want to show extreme disapproval; in Japan hissing is an expression of social deference.

There are number of ways of showing agreement (‘yes’) and disagreement (‘no’): the British nod the head up and down and move it from side to side respectively; these signs have just opposite meaning in Turkey and Greece. In Sicily, the head is tilted back slightly and the chin thrust out to signify ‘no’. In Abyssinia, the head is tiled back and the eyebrows raised to signify ‘yes’, whereas to show disapproval the head is jerked towards the right shoulder.

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