International Body Language
Travelling can be fun but it can also be a disaster. It all depends on how well you communicate with the people around you. Well, this might sound easy, nonetheless, you probably have always communicated with people effectively, right? This might be the case as long as you are talking about verbal and even non-verbal communication within your area of operation. Have you ever noticed that non-verbal communication plays a crucial role in determining how do people understand you? We are talking about your body language. Yes, you can say a lot or even say nothing just by the way you pose or move your body. Well, this might sound ridiculous but let’s explain it.
What is Body Language?
Has it ever occurred to you that your body movements, gestures, facial expressions, voice loudness, and tone, as well as interpersonal space or distance and so on, can have different meanings to different people? Yes, that is what international body language is about. You don’t need to say anything for someone else to interpret or even misinterpret your body language. International travelers are well advised to take note of this. Why? Different cultures have different interpretations of body language that’s why its important to know how to stick to the International body language. What one gesture means in one cultural context can be very different in a separate cultural context. Let’s take a few examples just to illustrate this all-important point.
• Thumbs Up
To a westerner, a thumbs up is a sign of success, gratitude, and acknowledgement but don’t try it in Nigeria. In this African country, this gesture has an obscene meaning that implies sit on it which is the same as saying exactly that… it on it’.
• The V Sign
In Ireland, Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand this peace sign is an offensive gesture understood the same way as a raised middle finger. As an international traveler be well informed to avoid using this sign in these countries.
• Crossed Fingers
If you are from the UK crossed fingers mean good luck but don’t try this sign in Vietnam. Here it is quite offensive and is construed to mean female genitalia.
• Personal Space
This might sound interesting. How close or how far you are from the person next to you has different interpretations around the world. Some researchers have come up with two general cultural categories; the contact cultures and the non-contact cultures. In the contact cultures like the ones found in the Middle East, South America and Southern Europe people stand close to one another. On the other hand in non-contact cultures like in Asia, North America and Northern Europe, people stand much farther apart and touches are not welcome. So you need to watch the distance between you and the next person depending on where or which part of the globe you are in.
• Mealtime Etiquette
Watch out on your table manners every time you travel out of your homeland. What might seem to be perfect table manners to you might be quite appalling to other people in a different cultural context. Take clearing your plate for instance. While cleaning your plate is a sign of a great meal in the UK the same cannot be said in China. Doing this in Beijing or any other part of China suggests that your hosts didn’t feed you enough and clearing your plate is your way of communicating this to them.
While in most societies nodding means approval or agreement in others such as parts of Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece nodding means no. In fact, in many Asian cultures, a head is where the spirit lives and no one should touch another’s head. Contrast this with what you’d expect if you took a trip to Tanzania or Kenya where you’ll most likely meet the Maasai. Here you greet the younger generation by touching their forehead. Quite opposite with the Greece or Turkey experience.
Having said this, it is not possible to list all the cultural differences and expectations here. Being an international traveler always bear in mind that there are significant cultural differences in body language across the globe. Be a good guest. How? Learn the international body language. Do your research before traveling and know how to correctly communicate non-verbally in the countries you are traveling to. Try to tone down your mannerisms and gestures until you’ve had the opportunity to observe some of the locals and see how they use body language then try to mimic their behavior. This will help you avoid accidental offenses and awkward situations during your visit.
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