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NonVerbal Miscommunication


The largest category of nonverbal communication would be gestures. Gestures can be the movement of any part of the body such as the hands or head. A simple movement you may consider normal could be offensive to someone from another culture. When speaking to others from another culture use as little gestures as possible until you figure out what gestures are good and which ones are bad. This is the easiest way to keep yourself out of trouble.

Here is a good exercise below. Think about what you would interpret these hand signs as for both your country and others. For every sign you get correct allocate yourself one point. This test was created by an internatioal traveler and member of the Western Toastmasters, an internatioal program/club designed to help people around the world become a better public speaker around the world. Here is there website:


Europe and North America: OK
Mediterranean region, Russia, Brazil, Turkey: An insult
Tunisia, France, Belgium: Zero; worthless
Japan: Money; coins


Western Countries: One; Excuse me!; As God is my witness; No! (to children)


Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Malta: Up yours!
USA: Two
Germany: Victory
France: Peace


Europe: Three
Catholic Countries: A blessing


Europe: Two
Britain, Australia, New Zealand: One
USA: Waiter!; Please come here
Japan: An insult


Western Countries: Four
Japan: An insult


Western Countries: Number 5
Mostly Everywhere: Stop!
Greece and Turkey: Go to hell!


Mediterranean: Small penis
Bali: Bad
Japan: Woman
South America: Thin
France: You can't fool me!


Mediterranean: Your wife is being unfaithful
Malta and Italy: Protection against the Evil Eye (when pointed)
South America: Protection against bad luck (when rotated)
USA: Texas University Logo, Texas Longhorn Football Team


Greece: Go to Hell!
The West: Two


Rome: Up yours!
USA: Sit on this! Screw you!


Europe: One
Australia: Sit on this! (upward jerk)
Mostly Everywhere: Hitchhike; Good; OK
Greece: Up yours! (thrust forward)
Japan: Man; five


Hawaii: 'Hang loose'
Holland: Do you want a drink?


USA: I love you


The West: Ten; I surrender
Greece: Up Yours -- twice!
Widespread: I'm telling the truth

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions can be tricky sometimes. However there are 6 expressions that are considered universal and are easily determined by a majortiy of cultures (most of the time). These expressions are happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and surprise.

 A minor exception would be that most Japanese labeled the fear facial expressions as suprise.

However in some countries the same facial expressions can be used differently. In Italy when speaking to someone they can seem extremely angry at times and seem to speak unnaturally loud or even yell at times to get their point accross. However this is their normal friendly way of speaking, here in the United States we prefer smiling faces and overly friendly personalities. We appreciate it, even if they don't mean it. The Itallians are uncomfortable around too much smiling, especially when they realize you don't actually feel happy or have a legitimate reason for smiling that much.

Personal Space

Space may not seem like an issue, but in some countries it can lead to disputes if you don't try to understand their point of view. For example the French prefer to use extremely wide hand gestures and prefer lots of touching and standing extremely close to whoever they are talking to. In the United States most people prefer to stand at least arms length away when talking and don't use as much hand gestures. If you are having trouble trying to understand if touching is good or bad go to a public place in the area and observe conversations of the locals. This will give you a good idea of normal space given of people from that culture. Sometimes touching, or even not touching can be offensive.


Saying hello and goodbye is very important it can leave a lasting impression. Just as saying hello or goodbye in the wrong way can leave a bad lasting impression. Kissing is a huge cultural barrier sometimes. For example Italians prefer to kiss someone goodbye than a handshake by pecking them on both cheeks. Kissing someone in the United States however can be extremely innaproprioate sometimes. In the United States handshakes are preferred over kissing. However in Japan bowing is best. When meeting someone both persons are expected to bow with the person with the highest status bowing the least and the lowest social status bowing the most. This is determined at the first meeting and is expected. Refusing to bow is taken as a personal insult, just as not kissing someone goodbye in Italy. Again paying close attention to the locals in the area can give you a good idea on what is the best way to greet or leave someone.

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