Body language in different cultures around the world: A top guide

In our last article, we explored if body language is really a language. And whether you just nodded in approval or raised your eyebrows, you just proved that nonverbal communication is universal.

It’s also essential to convey emotions, enhance your language and bridge linguistic and cultural gaps.

Now, the fact that nonverbal communication is used around the world does not mean it’s the same everywhere. Just like traditional languages, body language varies greatly from country to country.

From the champions of hand gestures, Italy, to the 34 bows of the Land of the Rising Sun, please give the thumbs-up to a tour of body language around the world!

What is body language?

Body language is the unspoken language we use through gestures, expressions, and movements. It adds depth to our words, showing emotions and intentions. It bridges gaps in cross-cultural communication and enhances your connection with others. Nonverbal communication includes facial expressions, gestures, posture, eye contact, and touch.

It’s studied through kinesics, proxemics, haptics, chronemics, and oculesics. Body language can support or contradict words, and sometimes, our true feelings leak out unintentionally. And of course, context matters for interpreting body language.

Does culture impact body language and non verbal communication?

Some aspects of nonverbal communication are universal, like basic facial expressions. For instance, a smile can work wonders pretty much anywhere!

However, others vary culturally. Different cultures have their own set of norms, values, and social expectations, which influence how people express themselves nonverbally.

We’ll cover this in depth below.

Body language in different cultures around the world

As mentioned, culture has a significant impact on nonverbal communication. Sometimes, nonverbal is even contradictory from one country to another. Some gestures are even considered offensive and can lead to an embarrassing faux-pas.

Hence the importance of culture training if you work with people from different nationalities.

Never make a circle with your index and thumb at a French restaurant, or worse — tragic music — stick your chopsticks upright in China, South Korea or Japan!

You have no idea what I’m talking about? Check out these gestures that can get you in trouble abroad. You’ll thank us later!

Below is an overview of body language cultural differences. We won’t mention laughing, as it universally expresses joy, amusement and connection. Unless it’s a sarcastic or evil laugh, of course!

Keep in mind that these are generalizations, and individual variations exist within each country and culture — sometimes even between regions or genders. Context also matters. Finally, globalization and increased cultural interactions are leading to more cross-cultural understanding and shared interpretations of facial expressions.

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