Handout Body Language Interpretations

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Body Language Interpretations

People in/from parts of India may to shake their head from side to side as a sign of agreement and active listening. In the west we tend to nod our head to agree and affirm and to show we are listening; in India it is not unusual for people to move their heads from side to side in giving these reactions. It is also seen as respectful practice.

Eye contact (other than unwanted staring) is generally regarded as a positive aspect of body language in Western cultures, which in this context typically refers to white European people and descendants. A specific difference regarding eye contact can be found in some black Caribbean cultures however, whereby young people tend to be instructed not look at someone eye to eye when being told off or disciplined. When cultures meet obviously this provides potential for friction, given the 'Western' expectation in such situations, for example, "Look at me when I'm talking to you".

Filipino people (and in fact many other people of all races) can find it offensive/uncomfortable when beckoned by a repeatedly curled index finger - the gesture evokes feelings of having done something wrong and being chastised for it.

In some Australian Aboriginal cultures, it is disrespectful to look an elder, or person of a rank above you, in the eyes. It is a sign of respect to drop your eyes, (whereas in Western culture not meeting somebody's gaze is commonly considered to be a negative sign, indicating deceit, lying, lack of attention, lack of confidence, etc.).

Showing the soles of the feet is insulting and rude in many Asian and Arab cultures. Similarly pointing the foot or feet at anyone is rude. Feet are considered dirty.

In Arab culture the left hand is commonly considered unclean due to associations with toilet functions, and should therefore not be offered or used for touching or eating. When in doubt in Arab environments, using the right hand for everything is a safer idea.

In Arab countries the thumbs-up gesture is rude.

The eyebrow flash may be considered rude or to carry sexual connotations in Japanese culture. Informal male-female touching is less common and can be considered improper in Japan.

The Western style 'OK' sign - a circle made with thumb and index-finger with other fingers fanned or outstretched - is a rude gesture in some cultures, notably Latin America, Germany and the Middle East.

Beckoning gestures in Eastern cultures are commonly made with the palm down, whereas Western beckoning is generally palm up.

The offensive Western two-fingered V-sign is not necessarily offensive in Japan and may be considered positive like the Western palm-outwards 'victory' or 'peace' V-sign in the West.

In some countries, Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria for example, moving the head up/down or from side to side may have additional or different meanings to those conventionally interpreted in the west. Specifically, in Turkey, aside from using conventional (western) head nodding and shaking, some people may also signal 'no' by moving their head up. Arab handshaking tends to be more frequent and less firm - on meeting and departing, even several times in the same day.

In Japan the male bow is still commonly used, when the depth of the bow increases with the amount of respect shown, and is therefore a signal of relative status between two people.

In The Netherlands people touch the temple with the index finger in order to indicate someone (or an action) is smart or intelligent. Touching the forehead with the index finger means someone (or an action) is stupid or crazy. In Russia these meanings are reversed.

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