Archives for July 2013

Be aware of your body language whilst abroad


55% of communication is body language and yet, when we go to another country, we only concentrate on the words we say. If you are going abroad this summer, you might like to consider that the signals we give with our bodies can mean different things to different cultures.

For example, we often gesture with our hands to illustrate what we are trying to say, but did you know that the thumbs-up sign is equivalent to the middle finger in Greece and Sardinia? Also, tapping your finger to your temple might point to memory in North America, but it suggests insanity in Russia. And consider this – the yes-no gestures are reversed in countries like Bulgaria and Albania, while ‘no’ in Turkey is an up/down motion with the head. Moreover, gesturing is considered to be rude in East Asia.

Silence can also be misconstrued between cultures. In the West, we tend to view silence as uncomfortable and a sign of inattentiveness or disinterest. However, in China, immediate response can be seen as aggressive and pushy, whilst silence can be used to show agreement and receptiveness. In Japan, silence from women can be considered an expression of femininity and, in many aboriginal cultures, silence after a question demonstrates that the subsequent answer has been thought out.

Then there’s touch. Much of Northern Europe and the Far East, are classed as “non-contact” cultures. When did you last accidently brush someone’s arm and apologise? However, the Middle East, Latin America, and southern Europe all include touching as part of socialisation. But be careful. Whereas men hold hands and kiss each other in greeting in the Middle East, they would not do so with a woman. In Thailand and Laos, it is taboo to touch anyone’s head, even a child’s, and in South Korea, elders can touch younger people with force when trying to get through a crowd, but younger people are not allowed to do the same.

Finally, beware eye contact. In most western countries, frequent eye contact is a sign of confidence and attentiveness, but it can be seen as aggressive and threatening in others. Eye contact can be very intense between the same gender in the Middle East, but, in many Asian, African, and Latin American countries, avoiding eye contact is a necessary sign of respect for bosses and elders.

So be careful and empathetic when you travel abroad and do not make the mistake of assuming that your cultural body language is the same as those you are visiting. Change your behaviour if you feel that something you are doing is inappropriate, and do lots of people-watching to observe cultural habits and responses. Apart from being one of the most pleasurable and relaxing aspects of holidaying, it can also give you the insight and knowledge you need to conduct yourself happily and safely abroad.

Have a wonderful, happy and restorative summer, and bon voyage!
Love Laurelle