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Do you think "body language" translates between cultures?


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We always talk about translation of words.  What about the so called expressions through body language?  Does a shrug of the shoulders have the same meaning in the English speaking countries as in other countries.  What about crossed arms or hands on hips?

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Yes, I think so, or at the very least some of the main ones probably do translate among all cultures, such as the ones you mentioned (shrugging, crossed arms, etc). Additionally, facial expressions like grimacing, I would assume, is recognizable as a person in pain to any culture. I guess a big part of the difference lies in the fact that some countries are just more expressive than others, but in general, I'd say we all pretty much speak the same body language.

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I think body language and face expressions pretty much work universally! That is what is great about it. These are instinctive to the human being, so it doesn't matter where you are, if you are disgusted, scared or pissed, you'll react the same ways!

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A big part of it does, but you should always be careful with your body language when you're in a foreign country.  Because there are things you normally do here... you go there to find out that thing you always do with your hand when you like something means a totally different thing over there!  I was reading an article the other day about body language, I read that in some arab countries when a man touches his mustache, that has a really strong sexual meaning... specially if it's done in front of a woman :P  Not sure how true is that!

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Body languages and simple gestures from different cultures can mean completely different things. You have to be very careful when traveling so you don't offend anyone. If you do decide to travel, one thing that you have to read up on is their culture and body language, it can be very important.

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A big part of it does, but you should always be careful with your body language when you're in a foreign country.  Because there are things you normally do here... you go there to find out that thing you always do with your hand when you like something means a totally different thing over there!  I was reading an article the other day about body language, I read that in some arab countries when a man touches his mustache, that has a really strong sexual meaning... specially if it's done in front of a woman :P  Not sure how true is that!

Haha. I always stroke my beard. I guess I'd be constantly sending out mating calls.

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A big part of it does, but you should always be careful with your body language when you're in a foreign country.  Because there are things you normally do here... you go there to find out that thing you always do with your hand when you like something means a totally different thing over there!  I was reading an article the other day about body language, I read that in some arab countries when a man touches his mustache, that has a really strong sexual meaning... specially if it's done in front of a woman :P  Not sure how true is that!

That's funny. I agree, while most body language can translate well between different cultures, there are some that would mean differently that what you intend for it to mean. Just to be safe, it's better to research more about this before you go to another country/culture.

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Absolutely, everybody understands simple gestures like pointing, waving, smiling. There are a few exceptions as Trellum pointed out. Things we aren't conscious of doing could have unfriendly meanings in another culture. But for the most part, our body is the language we all speak.

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Thanks for all the responses.  Maybe I should expand a bit like a "thumb's up" gesture or even the way hands are extended or things like a pat on the back.  I realize body language and gesturing may involve more reactive or passive behavior versus more active and communicative gestures.

The moustache stroking might not only be in Arab countries, but maybe we should have some gentlemen on the forum comment more.

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  • 4 months later...
Absolutely, everybody understands simple gestures like pointing, waving,

Pointing I agree is universal but waving definitely isn't. I read a story about a missionary in a foreign country who when she waved at one of the locals, he dashed over, supposing that she was in danger and was using that gesture, to call for help. That's how they did it. . .

So I don't think body language does translate between cultures. In some countries, when you shrug it  means "no."

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You have to be very very careful when it comes to body language. There are a lot of body languages that may be offensive for some countries. I think a lot of the comments here have covered that already. However it is important to remember this when you are travelling because a lot of our body languages are done automatically. This is especially true for Asian countries where people can be a bit sensitive at times. I know this because I am from the Philippines and we get offended at times when foreigners point their fingers when they really just want to point to something (it makes sense right?), for us pointing with your lips is more appropriate. (So if a Filipino is pursing his/her lips, it doesn't automatically mean that he/she wants a kiss hahaha)

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We always talk about translation of words.  What about the so called expressions through body language?  Does a shrug of the shoulders have the same meaning in the English speaking countries as in other countries.  What about crossed arms or hands on hips?

Yes I think body language translate between cultures. Body language also known as 'kinesics' is a significant aspect of modern communication and relationships. It is also relevant to management and relationships and to all aspect of work and business where communication can be seen and physically observed among people. Communication includes listening, in terms of  observable body language, non verbal signals are being exchange whether these signals are acompanied by spoken words are not. 

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Most forms of body language does but not all cultures. To some cultures, nodding your head is disagreement instead of agreement, therefore misinterpreting what is said or misunderstanding what is said is quite easy.

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