Spoken language is only 7% to 35% of communication. The majority of our feelings and intentions are sent through nonverbal communication. Moreover we tend to search for signals when verbal messages are unclear or ambiguous.
Wordless messages or kinesics are the way we communicate by sending and receiving signals using
body language, gestures, postures, proximity, haptics, and facial expressions.
Some signals are consistent across cultures. To a certain degree this is good news; if you do not speak the foreign language, you can still communicate with people of another country by using body language and facial expressions.
However, even if you do speak the local language and are able to communicate with the local people you might still be puzzled by the use of body language and facial expressions at your destination country.
Because nonverbal communication has also cultural meanings and is being interpreted according to the cultural context it occurs.
Cultural norms regarding kinesics vary considerably between countries; if you are not familiar with the local body language you might be misunderstood, and sometimes misinterpret the local nonverbal signals.
This can certainly lead to embarrassing and uncomfortable situations
So, before relocating overseas it is recommended to obtain as much information as you can about the nonverbal communication codes that are customary at your destination country.
Understanding body language of the destination country and interpreting body language correctly will not only assist you to avoid unpleasant situation but will
grant you respect from the locals.
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” ~ Peter F. Drucker
We collected examples of kinesics codes that are being used around the world, and we will be adding to this list regularly.
If you know any body language and facial expressions used around the world, or have an interesting story to share, we would love to hear from you.
All you need to do is scroll to the end of this page, and write into the comment box.
Nonverbal Communication Around the World
A handshake and nod show respect when greeting someone.
An embrace and one kiss on the cheek are common between friends and acquaintances.
Argentines stand close to each other when speaking. Do not back away.
The “O.K.” and “thumbs up” gestures are considered vulgar.
Hitting the palm of the left hand with the right fist means “I don’t believe what you are saying” or “That’s stupid.”
Don’t use toothpicks, blow your nose or clear your throat at the dining table
To summon a waiter, raise your hand with your index finger extended.
For social events, arrive thirty to sixty minutes late. Arriving at a party on time is impolite. Telephone your hosts the following day to thank them.
Handshakes are casual but not necessary.
Bosnians tend to spread arms open and then shake one hand, when greeting close friends.
It is polite to ask about close relatives health.
It is important to look behind leaving guests for a minute. Closing doors too fast is a sign that guest is not quite welcome.
It is preferable to ring a door bell only once.
Never shake hands over threshold.
It is polite to remove your shoes before crossing the doorstep.
Stand while greeting, sitting is sign of lack of interest and disrespect.
Always offer to pay, always refuse the other people’s offer to pay. Eventually, one whose turn is to pay will pay.
Young people kiss the hands of elderly in sign of respect.
Body contact with opposite sex is not preferred, except when greeting.
The part about nonverbal communication in Bosnia was contributed by
Samir from Sarajevo, BiH
The handshake is the common form of greeting.
There is some protocol to follow when introducing people in a business: Introduce a younger person to an older person. Introduce a person of lower status to a person of higher status. When two people are of similar age and rank, introduce the one you know better to the other person.
Hugging, kissing and touching is usually reserved for family members and very close friends.
The British like a certain amount of personal space. Do not stand too close to another person or put your arm around someone’s shoulder.
Staring is considered rude, and makes people feel uncomfortable.
If you hold up two fingers in a ‘v’ sign and the palm is facing inward it means ‘up yours’.
More information about British culture can be found in this link
The head is believed to contain the person soul therefore it is a taboo to touch or point at the head.
Cambodians greet each other by placing their hands, palms together, near their faces and bow slightly. This is called Som Pas.
Cambodian sits with their legs straight down and not crossed. Crossing your legs shows that you are an impolite person.
Feet are considered the lowest in value of body parts and thus it is insulting to point them at someone.
It is not polite to have eye contact with someone who is older or someone who is considered a superior.
Cambodians tend to smile or laugh in both positive and negative situations. Therefore caution should be taken in interpreting a smile or laugh in order to avoid misunderstanding.
When accepting a gift from an older person, it is polite to use both hands.
Before entering a house, it is important to remove your shoes and cap. This simple act is indicative of the esteem your hold for your host.
The Chinese don’t like being touched by strangers. Therefore don’t make any body contact.
Never use your index finger to beckon anyone. If you need to call a Chinese person, face the palm of your hand downward and move your fingers in a scratching motion.
Chinese don’t point with the index finger but with an open hand.
Using both hands when offering something to a visitor or another person is considered being respectful.
Touching or pointing to tip of one’s own nose with raised forefinger means it’s me.
When walking in public places, direct eye contact and staring is uncommon.
During conversations, be especially careful about interrupting – Listening is a sign of politeness and of contemplation.
Many Chinese consider winking to be rude.
Chinese of the same sex have close physical contact with their friends.
Chinese tend to smile easily when they feel difficulty or embarrassment. Smile because of embarrassment by a Chinese might be interpreted as being friendly by a westerner, but really they are embarrassed.
Greeting friends with an exchange of kisses is very common. However the number of kisses and the side that the kisses start on vary by region.
The French shake hands upon meeting someone for the first time, particularly in the business world.
When using the fingers to count the thumb is the first counter, the index finger is two, the middle finger is three, etc. If you hold up two fingers (index + middle fingers), you’ll get three of whatever you’re ordering, not two. Because the French count the thumb even if you don’t hold it up.
Holding your hands out, palms down, and smacking one hand down onto the other means lets get out of here.
Making a fist, holding it up in front of the nose, and twisting your hand while tilting your head the other way – indicates that someone is drunk.
Putting your index finger and pulling down the skin under your eye is equal to saying I don’t believe you.
Do not slap your open palm over a closed fist. This is considered a vulgar gesture.
The “okay” sign, made with index finger and thumb, means “zero.”
The French use the “thumbs up” sign to say “okay”.
More information about French culture can be found in this link
Described by by Max Lebrun from Port-Au-Prince , Haiti
The handshake is a formal way of greeting for men or woman, and while doing so one always inquire about the other well being.
Close friends may also ask about your family , whether they know them well or not; It is not rude if you don’t, but it just show respect.
It is common for close friends to greet the opposite gender with kiss on a cheek,(more of a cheek bump) and it is also a way to show respect to an elder (e.g .A niece to an uncle ).
Upon coming to someone’s house, you do not come in unless your invited, you do not sit unless they offer you to sit. Whereas when you are invited in, they will most likely tell you to do as in your own house, and out of respect one should be mindful and considerate of its action and behavior.
Offering food or drink to ones guess is sign of hospitality, so turning it down is disrespectful.
It is weird and rude to stare, for they consider it embarrassing and intrusive (one might even get in trouble).
Greeting with ‘namaste’ – placing both hands together with a slight bow is a very common nonverbal communication and shows respect for Indian customs.
You can also shake hands; Men may shake hands with other men and women may shake hands with other women. There are seldom handshakes between men and women because of religious beliefs. If you are uncertain, wait for them to extend their hand.
Indians value personal space, therefore don’t stand close to Indians, allow an arm’s length space.
Public displays of affection are not proper.
Side to side hand wave is frequently interpreted by Indians as “no” or “go away.”
Use your right hand only to touch someone, pass money or pick up merchandise. The left hand is considered unclean.
Do not touch anyone’s head. The head is considered sensitive.
Never point with a single finger or two fingers. Point with your chin, whole hand or thumb.
When an Indian answers, “I will try,” he or she generally means “no.” This is considered a polite “no.”
Pointing a finger at someone would be considered rude.
Additional tips about culture in India by Srinivas K Bhagavan from Bangalore, Karnataka, India
In India the arms crossed across the chest and the eyes not making contact is a gesture of respect for the elders and must not be misconstrued as insincere or as with someone who has something to hide.
The english language is spoken very rapidly, since all native languages in the country are fast paced.
Most Indians are very eager to help people in distress. This is often misunderstood as being interfering.
And Dipak from India adds the following:
” I agree that “In India the arms crossed across the chest and the eyes not making contact is a gesture of respect for the elders and must not be misconstrued as insincere or as with someone who has something to hide.”
However, in North America this very gesture is considered as a barrier to what is being said and insincere act of hiding something, not paying attention or not listening. Both the employers in West and employees coming from India need to be aware of this so that cultural differences do not result in misinterpretation of intent.”
Bowing is a customary nonverbal communication in Japan – Bowing during an introduction shows status. Business inferiors must bow lower than superiors.
Walking habits – The Japanese walk in short quick strides and drooping shoulders this low posture is called teishisei.
Eye Contact – eye contact shows that you are being aggressive, and rude. It is normal in Japan to avoid eye contact as it shows respect.
Pointing with the index finger is considered rude. You should point with the entire hand.
When entering a private home or traditional restaurants, it is usually customary to remove your shoes and place them with the toes pointing toward the outdoors.
Frowning while someone is speaking is interpreted as a sign of disagreement. Most Japanese maintain impassive expression when speaking.
Japanese find it hard to say ‘no’. The best solution is to phrase questions so that they can answer yes. For example, do you disagree with this?
In Kazakhstan people use nonverbal communication every day.
One kiss on the cheek is used like greeting (but only between girls). Men use a handshake in such a case.
The “O.K.” gesture or “thumb up” has the positive meaning and denotes that something is good, perfect.
Kazakh people use smile only with friends. With unfamiliar person they behave very formal.
They keep interpersonal distance during conversation. Facial expressions are used more often than gestures.
In Kazakhstan live people of various nationalities and cultures, that is why there is a mix of cultural peculiarities of nonverbal communication. And these people are very friendly!
The above part about nonverbal communication in Kazakhstan was contributed by
Yana Kovalyova Viktorovna, Taraz sity, Kazakhstan
People usually greet each other by hand shaking, but it is valid only for people who know each other. People who do not each other just smile.
Bowing and not direct eye contact is considered as a respect to elder people.
Personal space is quite close, not so distant. Only relatives and close friends kiss and hugs each other.
It is normal to be late for one hour for informal meetings like weddings or other kind of invitations.
Always remove shoes when you are entering home.
When you are guest at Kazakhs home, it means you can not say “no” for drink and food offers. If your plate is empty, Kazakhs put more and more food, and drink, even if you do not want. It is sign of hospitality and respect.
Shake hands or give a slight bow when introduced.
Women (initiate the handshake) and Mexicans generally stand close together when conversing. Don’t show signs of discomfort, which would be considered rude by your Mexican counterpart.
Don’t stand with your hands on your hips; this signifies anger. It is considered rude to stand around with your hands in your pockets.
Time is a very flexible thing in Mexico. As such, don’t be offended or surprised if your contacts in Mexico don’t show up in time.
Be careful about eye contact. Constant and direct eye contact can be seeing as being intrusive. Therefore gazing at the shoulder level or the forehead is considered polite.
Touching or making gestures when speaking is very common and should not be interpreted as having any sexual undertone.
Don’t use your left hand to give or receive objects. The left hand is considered unclean.
Shake hands upon meeting someone and don’t forget to smile! Sometimes men may place their hand on the other person’s shoulder during a handshake. Shake hands again upon departing.
Don’t shake hands with a woman unless she initiates it.
Exchange hugs and kisses with people you know well.
To rush a greeting is extremely rude; spend time inquiring about the other person’s general well-being.
Thumb extended upward is considered a very rude signal.
A handshake is always appropriate when greeting or leaving.
Don’t shake hands over a threshold (Russian belief holds that this action will lead to an argument).
Public physical contact is common. Hugs, backslapping, kisses on the cheeks are common among friends or acquaintances and between members of the same sex.
Russians stand close when talking.
When a Russian touches another person during conversation, it is usually a sign of confidence.
The “thumbs-up” sign can be an acceptable gesture of approval.
Putting your thumb through your index and middle fingers or making the “OK” sign is considered very rude gestures in Russia.
Speaking or laughing loudly in public is discouraged.
more information about Russian customs and culture can be found in here
The traditional Thai greeting is called the wai. In general, the younger person greets first, by placing the palms together at chest level and bowing slightly. If someone wai to you, it is polite to wai back.
In giving or receiving gifts or passing things, Thais ordinarily use the right hand. They place the left hand under the right elbow, and bow the head slightly.
Do not touch another person’s head. The head is considered sacred, since it is the source of intelligence and spiritual substance.
The feet come in contact with the ground, and thus are considered to be dirty. Pointing the bottom of your feet at someone can be interpreted as an insult.
Remove your shoes before entering a temple or a home.
It is rude to sit with your ankle crossed over a knee, or to place an arm over the back of someone’s chair.
A smile is often used for an apology, and a nod doesn’t mean yes, it is simply a gesture of respect.
People greet each other with a two-handed handshake or by a kiss on both cheeks.
It is very common to see two man holding hands or arm in arm at walking on the street This means that they are just good friends.
Waving a hand up and down at you, palm towards the ground, is a signal for you to come.
Elders are highly respected. If you are seated, rise to greet them when they enter a room.
Don’t cross your arms or put your hands in your pockets while facing or talking to someone.
Inclining your head forwards means ‘yes’ and inclining your head backwards and raising eyebrows means ‘No’
In most countries when thumb and index finger form a circle it means “Okay”. In Turkey it means homosexual and is considered a big insult.
Turned-up palm and fingers held together forming a small ”bowl”: means “good”, and is used when commenting on food.
Turks tend to stare at one another and at foreigners.
Turks will stand close to you while conversing. Do not back away, as this can be construed as unfriendly.
It is vital that you maintain eye contact while speaking since Turks take this as a sign of sincerity.
Pressing your thumb on your upper teeth is a sign of fear.
Please note that The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey site provides an enormous amount of valuable information about all cultural aspects of Turkey.
For example you can find there information about common belief in Turkey like – good luck-bad luck, spells, evil eye and amulets used for the evil eye, fortune telling, vows, prayers for rain, sin.
You can also find information about landmarks in life like – traditions to do with birth, childhood age, circumcision, wedding customs, military service and leaving home, customs And beliefs related to death in Anatolia.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Placing hands on the heart shows genuine respect and humility. Sometimes, this is used in combination with a small bow, meaning thank you.
Scratching or holding of a chin or beard is an indication that someone is thinking. It might be wise to wait until the person has finished thinking before continuing talking.
Friends’ kissing each other on the cheek is a sign of friendship, and it is common amongst male friends.
Shaking hand is the normal greeting with a male. Females do shake hands with each other, and occasionally a kiss is shared. Males should not shake hand with a female unless the hand is offered by a female.
Touching noses three times when shaking hands is a traditional Bedouin greeting.
Holding hands for a long period after shaking hands is a sign of friendship
A Hug is an indication that you are considered a trustworthy friend. A refusal to touch may suggest that you are believed to be untrustworthy or unclean.
If an Arab bites their right finger, it is a sign of contempt and that you are not liked.
If a semi clenched hand is placed in front of the stomach, it means that you are thought to be a liar.
Placing finger on the Nose, beard or head means that it is the intention of the person to undertake what you are talking about.
Putting all fingers and thumbs together (like a cup) means; ‘Wait just one minute’ or ‘slow down’.
If the fingers of the left hand are clasped together and touched with the right forefinger, this is the equivalent of giving someone the finger in the West.
A clawing action with the right hand is usually indicative of a beckoning to move closer or to come into a room. Never beckon anyone with one finger pointing up
The sole of the foot is dirty – never point the sole of your foot in the direction of an Arab.
When offered something to drink, always say yes. Saying no would mean rejecting someone’s hospitality.
Greetings are casual and quite informal – A handshake, a smile, and ‘hello’.
Stand while being introduced. Only the elderly, the ill and physically unable persons remain seated while greeting or being introduced.
Handshakes are usually brief. Light handshakes are considered distasteful. Use a firm grip. Eye contact is important when shaking someone’s hand.
Keep your distance when conversing. Americans are generally uncomfortable with same-sex touching, especially between males.
Americans smile a great deal, even at strangers. They like to have their smiles returned.
Men and women will sit with legs crossed at the ankles or knees, or one ankle crossed on the knee.
It is considered rude to stare, ask questions or otherwise bring attention to someone’s disability.
Arrive on time for meetings since time and punctuality are so important to Americans.
And Jenn from U.S.A adds
Most Americans are okay with same-sex touching, as long as you are friends and it isn’t a business transaction.
close males can hug and younger males may use the slang “no homo” to say they don’t feel sexual towards the other male.
females normally hug instead of shaking hands and normally don’t say “no homo” because they all assume it.
Described By Boburmirzo Mamasodikhov from Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is rich in different cultures and customs.
In most cases Uzbeks greet each other with shaking their hands or nodding a little when they are far away from each other.
In some regions local people try to greet with a huge and warm hug consequently this can be considered the most acceptable way to show their respect.
In cities all relatives kiss each other cheek as much as they prefer.
In Uzbekistan many respect people who say the most famous phrase “ASSALOMU ALAYKUM” with the responding one “VA ALAYKUM ASSALOM” while greeting .