International business schools will tell you of the importance of recognising the difference in body language in different cultures. If you’re looking to make a positive impression when abroad, you simply need to know the country’s customs and conventions. Otherwise when you think you’re giving a Greek the thumbs up you’ll be surprised to be greeted with a slap in the face. Still, don’t sweat, the majority of body language remains the same between cultures. Paul Ekman at the University of California proved in ground breaking work that many facial expressions are universal the world over and the same is true for many other body language gestures. So the first thing to know is this: wherever you go, body language will not be radically different to where you are now.
That said, changes in territorial space, eye contact, touch frequency, insult gestures and greetings do occur between cultures, and it’s certainly be worth having a good understanding of these changes in body language in different cultures.
Here are some of the most important differences in body language in difference cultures.
Body Language in Different Cultures By Country
Italian Body Language
Italians hold their hands high in order to hold the floor in a conversation
Italians will touch on the arm to stop another person from taking the floor.
Italians touch a lot while talking
Maintain Eye contact while talking
To beckon, raise your forefinger and make eye contact
Italians use their arms and bodies when talking
Chinese Body Language
One of the biggest changes in body language in different cultures occurs between USA / UK and China
Clicking fingers or whistling is considered rude
Do not put your feet on a desk or chair
Do not blow your nose in a handkerchief and put it back in your pocket
The Chinese don’t like to be touched by strangers.
Do not indicate a person with your index finger. Beckon by holding your palm out flat and scratching your fingers backwards.
Point with an open hand.
Russian Body Language
Russians use a lot of physical contact in communication including hugs, kisses, backslapping and more between members of the same sex.
The “OK” sign is considered rude inRussia, as is putting your thumb through your index and middle fingers.
Russians stand close when talking
South Korean Body Language
Eye contact between senior and junior businesspeople should be avoided
When beckoning someone, extend your arm with the palm down and move your fingers in a scratching motion.
Always keep your feet on the floor
Always pass and receive objects with the right hand
To be touched by someone you are not close to is considered an insult.
Australian Body Language
“V” signs are considered very rude
To beckon use a quiet hand motion
It is rude to wink at women
Cover your mouth and excuse yourself when yawning.
Mexican Body Language
Standing with hands on hips signifies anger and standing with hands in pockets is considered rude.
Mexicans stand near one another when talking.
Maxicans hold gestures like handshakes longer than Americans and Brits.
Japanese Body Language
Another big change in body language in different cultures occurs between USA / UK and China
Do not show affection in public
Do not beckon with your forefinger but rather extend your right arm in fron, bending the wrist down, waving fingers.
Waving your hand back and forth in front of the face means no.
Do not wave with four fingers spread and the thumb held in
Nod to show you are listening and understanding.
Prolonged eye contact is considered rude
Moments of silence are considered normal.
Knowing these changes in body language in different cultures will give your communication skills a big boost whenever you travel abroad.