Many books and specialists talk about the body language accounting for roughly tree quarters of the messaging during conversation.

To put it in other words, your body language is over three times more important than what you actually say.

Today, we’ll look into how our gestures might be understood in other countries, so does body language need to be translated?

There are many internationally understood gestures like the offensive middle finger. However, are other gestures that we are used to in the western countries understood in the same way in the other parts of the world?

Let’s take a look at Japanese culture to start with. The sign for OK where we curl the thumb and the forefinger to create an O actually means ‘money’ in Japan. The difference will probably not get you in trouble, but it may cause some slight confusion. However, the same gesture in Norway is considered to be offensive.

Furthermore, Japanese assign great importance to even smallest gestures, so it is best to minimise hand movement and facial expressions. Especially try hiding your anger and cover it up with a smile.

On the other hand, Italians ‘talk with their hands’. Their culture is used to conversations including lots of hands movement in order to put their message across.

Another interesting gesture comes from Poland. When your Polish counterpart flicks his fingers against his neck, it is an invitation for a drink (most likely vodka). However, this is mainly used in social situations.

In Arab world the left hand is considered unclean, so avoid gesturing with your left hand and never use it to eat.

The Chinese point to their noses when they indicate the first person, “I”, whereas westerners would point to their chest.

And, in Turkey, it is considered rude to cross your arms while facing someone. Also, shaking your head from side to side in Turkey means ‘I don’t understand’ rather than a ‘no’. Therefore, if you shake your head from side to side directly after a question, your Turkish speaker will interpret that as a sign that you don’t understand and will ask the question in a different way instead of understanding it as a no.

As you can see with the few above examples, our body language might very well be interpreted in a different way than we expect during our business travels. Therefore, it is always best to have an in-country partner who can help with avoiding potential issues due to cultural misunderstanding.

In addition, for all the non-verbal communications with international audiences it is crucial to get the messaging right, so don’t hesitate to get in touch regarding your potential translation requirements.

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