Just like people in different cultures speak different languages, non-verbal communications also coincides, contrasts or differs with changes in geography and culture.
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When communicating with people of different cultures, it is essential to learn about the differences they have in gestures from what you are accustomed to. Using the correct body language can help you in supporting your verbal communication when communicating in foreign cultures.
Nodding of Head
In most cultures, you will find that the nodding of the head signifies agreement. However, in some cultures such as in Turkey, parts of Greece, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia, nodding of head expresses disagreement.
A smile can express various emotions. A smile is used to express happiness in the West. In Asian cultures, however, a smile can be used to mean ‘yes’, show your likeness for a person, and is even used sarcastically.
In the West, maintaining eye contact is considered positive whereas in many Asian and African cultures, maintaining eye contact with speaking, especially to an elder, is considered rude. In these cultures, lowering of the eyes is seen as a show of respect and eye contact is interpreted as challenge or rebellion.
Using hands and fingers to point or communicate emotions must be kept at the minimum when in a different culture. Hand gestures such as making a V for victory sign with your fingers, thumbs-up, raising the little finger, or the open hand gesture, may mean different, and many times opposite things in a different culture. For instance, the thumbs-up sign can be interpreting as a vulgar gesture in the Middle East and Greece. Curling the index finger to ask someone to come closer is considered rude in China, East Asia, and the Philippines.
It is best to stick to verbal communication if you are not aware of the local meaning of certain hand gestures. It must be remembered that in large countries, each state or geographical area can have their unique language and non-verbal communication signals.
Kissing and Hugging
Kissing and hugging are a sign of affection used commonly in the West. Kissing on the cheeks or the mouth is an acceptable indicator of affection. In Asian cultures, kissing and hugging are seen as intimate acts, largely sexual when between individuals of the opposite gender, and are not used in public.
Making an OK sign with thumb and forefinger
Making an O with your thumb and forefinger to mean ‘okay’ or ‘that’s fine’ can be a hostile sign in certain countries. In France and certain European countries, the sign means worthless or zero. In Italy, Greece, Brazil and Turkey, the sign is seen as an insult.
Even though there is tolerance and/or awareness in some countries and locations about the differences in cultures and habits, in some countries where people or regimes are less tolerant, it is best to learn about their culture and remain careful in communications.
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