One of the wonderful things about this world we live in is that each one of us experiences our own culture in our own unique way.
One of the wonderful things about this world we live in is that each one of us experiences our own culture in our own unique way. Obviously our mother tongue is one of the main differences that define us, but another one that’s even more difficult to translate is body language – mostly because it’s so vastly different from person to person, and culture to culture. Fortunately for document translators they’re generally not required to determine the difference in meanings of body language!
Generally, nodding your head means approval or agreement. However, Greeks and Bulgarians are renowned for their unusual way of implying yes and no: when they nod up and down it signifies a negative!
In the West we appreciate good eye contact: in Greece, Spain and Arab countries we notice very strong eye contact. However, the Japanese and Finns are embarrassed by another person’s stare and it’s only at the beginning of a conversation that they seek eye contact.
Tugging Ear Lobe
The Portuguese tug on their earlobe to indicate good food, however this gesture in Italy has a sexual connotation. Then again, tugging your earlobe in Spain indicates that someone’s not paying for their drinks!
In the West it’s quite acceptable to give a hearty nose-blow into your handkerchief, while in Japan public nose-blowing is frowned upon. If you tap on your nose in England it suggests ‘confidential’ but in Italy it means ‘watch out!’
Using the Lips
The Native American, Filipino, Puerto Rican and other Latin American cultures commonly use their lips to point, instead of using a finger. In the West, many people kiss when they greet or when saying goodbye, however in many Asian countries this is considered too intimate an action to be done in public.
Use of Arms
In Italy and in the United States, people use their arms quite freely when talking, but northern Europeans barely tolerate people gesturing with their arms: they associate it with over-dramatization and insincerity. It’s considered impolite in Japan to gesture with broad arm movements.
The American wave ‘goodbye’ is interpreted as a signal for ‘no’ in Latin America and parts of Europe. Americans interpret the Italian goodbye wave as ‘come here, whereas in many Asian countries the American ‘come here’ gesture is considered an insult.
It’s taboo to point with your index finger in Malaysia, but pointing with your thumb is allowed. The ‘thumbs up’ gesture is used in a lot of cultures; particularly in Brazil where it’s used everywhere. However, in some Islamic countries, Greece, and Sardinia it’s a rude sexual signal. In France it signifies the number 1.
In some European countries and North America it’s very common to sit cross-legged, however in the Middle East and Asia showing the sole of your shoe to another person is considered disrespectful.