Body Language in Different Cultures: 9 Unique Expressions From Around the World

Body Language in Different Cultures: 9 Unique Expressions From Around the World

Do you know how Indians shake their hands for ‘yes?’

Or do the Japanese maintain eye contact when talking?

Body language is as important as the language itself.

And if you thought it was universal, you’ve got that all wrong.

Gestures that mean something in one country, don’t necessarily mean the same in another.

As much as you need to learn a second language fluently, it’s also vital to get to know gestures in different cultures.

That is why we’ve gathered for you 10 body gestures in different cultures.

It’s time for you to meet the rest of the world, so let's start our journey now.


How To Learn Body Language?

Eye contact, hand gestures, head movement; all of these are important when learning a foreign language.

However, many tutors, unfortunately, aren’t trained to teach you this, so if you want to do something about learning body language, we have some suggestions.

If you live somewhere you can meet the natives, then you are lucky. Watch how they do it, observe their movements, hand gestures, and their touch.

Many of us, unfortunately, aren’t that lucky to interact with native speakers. However, we have a solution for that, too. Find some videos on YouTube. Search for real-life situations and interactions. You can also try with some entertaining movies in your target language. Not only will you learn body language, but you will practice the language itself.


9 Body Language Expressions in Different Cultures

Eye Contact In Japan

‘Look at me when I’m talking to you!’

Admit that you’ve heard this sentence at least from your parents. It shows how important it is to look someone in the eyes then talking to them.

In Japan, however, you won’t hear this sentence, or, at least, not like this.

In most countries, eye contact during conversation is not only a sign that you are paying attention but also an indicator of your culture.

Eye contact in Japan is considered as an act of aggression and rudeness.

The Japanese don’t look each other in the eyes when they talk but in the neck.


China And Noses

In Western countries, people don’t pay attention to noses too much. 

Noses are part of our faces and they give an overall expression about us. But nothing more than that.

In China, however, it’s a bit different. There (but in several other Eastern Asian countries) noses represent wealth, status, and self-esteem.

In many countries, when you want to point out your strength and status, you point at your chest.

In China, it’s more than enough to point at your nose, so that the people around you know what you want to tell them.

Oh, and don’t forget to point your nose and not the nose of other people. It’s considered very rude.


In India, Shake Your Head Left-Right

When you want to say yes, you shake your head up and down.

Admit that your first thought was that the whole world does this.

Well, not quite.

In India, when you want to say ‘yes,’ you shake your head. But you don’t shake it up and down, but left and right, towards the shoulders. 

Not only that head shake means ‘yes,’ it can mean that you are paying attention to what your speaker is saying.

Pretty amazing, right?


Bow In Korea

Not only in Korea but also other East Asian countries, such as Japan and China, a bow is the basis of politeness, respect, and bon-ton.

The more you bow to your speaker, the greater your respect is.

Moreover, the more you keep the head bowed, the more serious you are.

In Korea, when you say ‘Hello,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Goodbye,’ you should bow at the same time.


‘Thumbs Up’ for Iran

Do you know what ‘thumbs up’ means?

Yes, the thumbs-up gesture means that you are encouraging someone, and with this gesture, you are telling them,  ‘Go ahead!’

And do you know that in Iran, when you show thumbs up, you can offend someone?

In many Middle East countries, including Iran, when you show this gesture, it’s like you’ve been  showing someone a middle finger, so, yes, it can be very offensive.

But, thanks to the internet and today’s availability to be informed about anything you want to know, in Iran, people slowly started using the thumbs up gesture like in the Western part of the world. 

Well, not everyone and not all the time, but can come across some people giving you thumbs up in the meaning ‘OK.’


Counting From One to Five in Russia

From the heat, orient, and colors, let’s move up to the cold and magnificent Russia.

No matter if you are fluent and know even the curse words in Russian, we bet you don’t know this fun fact.

While counting from one to five using finders, people all over the world start counting with a ball-up fist. Starting from one, you uncurl each of the fingers. Until you come to five, your hand is wide open.

Everywhere worldwide, people count like this except in Russia.

Instead of a ball-up fist, they start counting with a wide-open palm. So, when Russians start counting from one, they curl their fingers one by one. In the end, when they reach five, they get a ball-up fist.


Counting in Germany

When you say Germany, one of the first things that come to your mind is beer.

Yes, Germany is a country of beer, so, naturally, everything is all about beer.

As we already mentioned, we use fingers for counting. One of the fun facts you probably didn’t know is that in Germany, they use fingers for counting, too, but also for beer mugs.

You, for example, came to Germany and went to drink a couple of their famous beers. How will you order them?

Start counting with a thumb, and not with a pointer finger, as people in the USA do.

If you want two beers, then point the thumb and the pointer finger, and so on.

Don’t forget this way of counting, or you may get drunk pretty quickly.


Comme Ci, Comme ça In France

You’ve probably heard of the phrase that French use so much, comme ci, comme ça.

It’s equivalent to the English so-so.

However, the French use it a little bit differently. 

Since the French are perfectionists and have very high standards for every aspect of their lives, they use this phrase very often.

When you, for example, ask a French how his day was, they will likely answer with comme ci, comme ça. It doesn’t mean that some part of their day was terrible. It just means that there was nothing special, nothing worth mentioning; A day like any other.

Hand Gestures In Italy

What’s the best way to learn Italian? Let’s be straight right away: without hand gesturing, it is impossible.

One of the worldwide-known Italian gestures is the pinecone. Even if you don’t know the exact meaning, without a doubt, you can feel the word itself.

Even though it can be used in almost every situation, it is known that it is accompanied by questions.

The pinecone gesture is formed when you bring all the tips of your fingers to one point. Then you move your wrist back and forth. And don’t forget to parla Italiano while doing it.

You are trying it now, aren’t you?

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Final Thoughts

Now when you’ve traveled across the whole world and come home, not only have you found which language you want to learn but you’ve learned some of the entertaining and unique gestures from different cultures.

Cultural differences in nonverbal communication should be celebrated and embraced.

Learning body language is an inevitable part, and you should learn it along with the language. It can help you communicate more efficiently and clearly. 

What are the examples of cultural differences with regard to body language?

Body language differences can be seen in the use of eye contact and the preferred physical distance between people.

Is body language the same in all cultures?

Body language is as important as the language itself. And if you thought it was universal, you’ve got that all wrong. Gestures that mean something in one country, don’t necessarily mean the same in another.

What are 5 types of body language?

Body posture, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, space.

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