Body language in different cultures
Having a good linguistic competence does not only mean knowing a foreign language but also having specific knowledge of the non-verbal approaches of that culture.
It is therefore not mastery of the language that makes us suitable for working relationships or negotiations in intercultural contexts, but rather mastery of the non-verbal dimension (gestures, distances, physical contact and vocal aspects).
Different cultures have their own typical non-verbal signals and gestures are the aspect that changes the most in different countries, here are some useful indications for those who work with people from different cultures.
Take for example the gesture "ok", formed by joining the tips of the index finger and thumb: it has the meaning of "ok" in the United States and northern Europe, but in France it indicates something worthless (based on the symbolism of the number zero) and in Japan it symbolizes money (it simulates the round shape of a coin).
During Nixon's visit to Brazil in the 1950s, the locals became furious after he sent them what he considered the signal of approval (ok). For these people, the American politician was simply offending them with an obscene gesture; he had not paid attention to cultural difference, although only in conveying a non-verbal message.
Even the gesture of the hands reached has different meanings depending on the culture within which it is performed: it can be read as prayer, submission in Western countries or as a form of greeting in Japan.
Social behaviour is the result of cultural models that establish the rules of behaviour that members must follow. Therefore, be careful to point with a finger because in Asia it is offensive. Their etiquette requires that everything indicated is done with two hands. In addition, the digital mode is absolutely to be avoided: to say goodbye do not use handshakes, kisses or hugs but only bows.
The gesture that instead in Italy they use to express "what do you want?" with the fingers of the hand joined upwards, means "wait" in Arab countries and "excellent, perfect" in Turkey. Be careful also to show the soles of your shoes at a meeting with Arab people. To those who are not Arab could come natural, once seated, cross their legs and not think about the positioning of the foot, but for them, seeing the sole of the shoe is considered an offense because the sole is in contact with the dirt of the streets.
The gesture used by us to express the "victory", with the index and middle fingers raised has different interpretations: in England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand if the back is facing the interlocutor, it means "go to hell". In Indonesia it means "after you", while in Africa and the Far East it is absolutely not recommended to use it.
In Greece it is necessary to be very careful to keep the palm of the open hand facing the other person, while in our country it means "no thanks, that's enough", in them the gesture, called "moutza", is used to express disgust, and it is very offensive, so much so that in order to point five with their hands the Greeks are used to keep the palm facing themselves.
With regard to interpersonal distances, in general the invasion within the personal area could annoy some subjects. But this is not always the case, since for example in Arabic-speaking countries the violation of the public social space is allowed only between members of the same sex who, unlike what happens in the West, speak at very close distances and walk hand in hand without this being interpreted with homosexual implications.
Observing a business meeting of Americans and Japanese the proxemic element can be noticed even by non-experts: the Japanese tend to get closer (because they are used to interpersonal spaces smaller than about 25 centimeters) invading the space of the Americans and forcing them to move away. Hence the mutual misperceptions: the Americans find the Japanese intrusive and overbearing and the Japanese find the Americans cold and distant.
So pay attention to the gestures you make and document yourself before an important business appointment...even the applause that is the non-verbal means of communication used to express appreciation, in Russia and China is used to say hello.
Do you and your language exchange friends ever pay attention to non-verbal language? Let us know in the comments!
- 22 Aug, 2020
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