Warning: Body Language – Not Always a Positive Experience

Body LanguageThe body language is not an international language. Many people have misinterpreted local customs and traditions when traveling abroad – and while some have become funny stories, others have been an embarrassment or maybe even harmful.  

In some cultures, the local customs might make you insecure because they are a contrary to your customs. For example: Do not get angry if a Japanese person apparently sleeps during your speech. In Japan, to nod with your eyes closed is custom to show interest and respect for what you are saying.

Most people who have traveled in other cultures have their own certain stories to tell regarding foreign customs and body language.

If you are traveling abroad this summer, please read the following list with some of the most contradictory customs. It might save you the really big embarrassments.

Bon Voyage!

Thumbs Up: Positive confirmation in Norway and most of Europe, but it means A**hole in Turkey and Fu** off in Greece.

Index finger tip against middle finger tip: Yet another positive confirmation in Norway. In Japan it means Money, while in Germany it means A**hole.

Peace sign, palm facing in: Means Peace and Victory in Norway, but in Great Britain and Australia it means Fu** off.

Raised eyebrows and big eyes: A common face expression in the West when you are surprised or shocked, but in the East it is an expression for anger and insult.

Sticking your tongue out: For Norwegians, this is an act of insult while in China it is a sign of astonishment.

Showing off your foot sole: Has no certain meaning in Norway or Scandinavia – it would just be a funny scene. But you should definitely avoid it in Arabic countries where it means He/she is not worth the sh*t under your shoes – whether you are wearing shoes or not.

Stepping on somebody’s foot: Not particularly comfortable or nice for anyone except the Russians, who might think you are flirting with them.

Nodding/shaking your head: In Norway and most of the West, nodding means Yes and shaking means No. But be careful: Several countries in Eastern-Europe do it the opposite way!

To make eye contact: In Europe and the U.S., making eye contact is not only seen as appropriate. In many Asian cultures though, avoiding eye contact with a member of the opposite sex or a superior is seen as a show of respect.


PS: It always pays off to talk to the locals – or copy some of their habits!


Text by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews

Source: Typisk Norsk; Dinamo Forlag, 2005

Categories: Culture, Language, Travel

1 reply

  1. Thumbs up is also used as a positive confirmation in Turkey too. I’m Turkish and I use it to confirm something all the time.

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