- 1. Don’t assume you understand what people are indicating with their visual language; you may be misinterpreting it.
- Shaking your head (meaning a negative in the West), has many different meanings in other parts of the world. Nodding does not always mean ‘Yes’.
- Asians can never say ‘No’. Always pay more attention to the body language than the words.
- Pay very careful attention to the other person’s body language to see if you are coming up against an invisible cultural barrier.
- Singaporeans tend to laugh when embarrassed or when in a highly emotional state. A little laughter can be a signal for ‘No’.
- When is a smile not a smile? Asians smile to communicate various emotions: anger, embarrassment, sadness, and disappointment. Interpretation depends on context. Smiling at a funeral might be astonishing to a Westerner.
- Koreans: pay particular attention to facial expressions—very important to make eye contact.
- Eye contact is thought of as rude in Japan. They will often look down at their shoes or in the air. Take care to not stare.
- Be wary of finger gestures and pointing. This can be extremely offensive. It’s best to use whole hand (always the right), preferable palm upwards. As a matter of interest, Indians point with their chins.
- Eye contact (men/men) and gestures of openness are important in Saudi Arabia.
- Left hand considered unclean—hand objects and only touch someone with the right hand
- Avoid touching your face while speaking to someone else, especially with the right hand (which you use to shake their hand).
- Touching is also taboo in Japan. Avoid the ‘American pat on the back’ or arm around the shoulder. It is often considered deeply patronising.
- In the West, patting children on the head or ruffling their hair this is a sign of affection. In the East, these should be avoided as the head is where the soul is located.
- Do not stand too close to someone you have just met. Respect their personal ‘space bubble’.
- Rarely is kissing accepted as a greeting: unlikely in Asia; frowned upon in the Middle East unless it is men/men. Openly practised in France, Russia, southern Mediterranean countries. Accepted in the UK and US.
- Bowing is the common greeting in Japan, however, the handshake is becoming more popular, particularly among those who work with international guests and clients and among young people.
- It is offensive to show the soles of your shoes/feet, so don’t put your feet up, cross your legs, or rest your ankle on your knee.
- The floor is seen as very unclean, so be careful about putting a bag or briefcase on a chair or table if it has been on the floor.
- Do not lean against a wall or door when talking to someone. It’s disrespectful. Sit on the edge of a chair or sofa to show respect. Leaning back shows familiarity.
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