Different countries and their respective cultures employ different types of body language. This lesson will discuss a variety of body language used in different cultures.
What is Body Language?
While driving in New Zealand, a tourist couple missed a stop sign and were pulled over by the police. When they explained that they were not from the area and had accidentally missed the stop sign, the police offer gave them a warning. The husband was pleased, so he gave the officer a 'thumbs up' gesture. The officer then proceeded to put the man in handcuffs and called for backup. Why, you ask? A thumbs up is seen as a rude gesture in New Zealand!
So what is body language? We can define it as the way people demonstrate their emotions through body movements such as facial expressions, eye contact, and hand gestures. It can even include personal space and the way one dresses. The thumbs up example above illustrates that not all cultures have the same norms when it comes to body language. Let's look at examples of body language in three other cultures.
Body Language in China
In China, when talking with someone who is older than you, you should lower your head and bend slightly to show respect. In addition, people of different statuses in China do not shake hands. Shaking hands is reserved for those who are of the same social status, are friends, or interact as business people. Similarly, it would be easy for an uninformed person to insult someone in China with a simple hand gesture. They would simply need to scrape a finger across their own face. This type of body language is intended to show that they are looking down upon the other person.
Body Language in India
Are you thinking of traveling to India? You might want to brush up on some of the customs regarding body language. The body language of Indian culture has two types of gestures: 'illustrators', are gestures that go along with words, and 'emblems', are gestures that have their own meaning and do not accompany words. For example, when greeting someone, you are expected to use the namaste illustrator, which involves folding the hands in a prayer-like gesture while speaking a greeting.
An example of Indian body language involving an emblem is the 'suicide gesture'. If you have your palms facing your body, and then throw them outward, you are making a gesture which indicates throwing yourself from a bridge into a river! If you mistakenly make this gesture, it can be taken the wrong way. Finally, it is important to know that women in India tend to refrain from physical contact with others. So, walking up to an Indian woman and hugging her may not be well received.
Body Language in England
When visiting England, there are some important things to keep in mind. First, shaking hands is done when greeting someone, as well as upon leaving their company. Interestingly, women are expected to offer their hand to men first. In addition, you must shake hands with each person, including children. Offer a light, not firm, handshake.
It is also not appropriate to slap someone on the back or touch them in public. This is especially true with displays of affection. These are typically reserved for family and close friends. When talking with someone, you must also leave enough personal space between yourself and that person. Likewise, you should never put your arm around another person.
We use body language, the way people demonstrate their emotions through body movements such as facial expressions, eye contact, and hand gestures, constantly.
However, not all gestures are considered appropriate in all places. In China, while it is not okay to shake hands with everyone you meet, this is expected in England. In India, women refrain from any type of physical contact, but in England women must offer their hands first in a greeting. Just by looking at these few simple examples of body language, one can see how important it is to study the culture before traveling to a different country.