Have you ever walked into a crowded elevator and instead of facing the door, you stand there facing the people? Have you tried that, anyone? If you do that, the people inside will glare at you because you have broken the elevator rule.
The Elevator Rule
The elevator rule is: when one or two people enter an elevator, they each lean against the wall. When there are four, they each occupy a corner and when there are five or more, they all turn to face the door.
In this day and age, every country is a mixing pot of multicultural diversity. Understanding cultural customs and body gestures is the key to communicating effectively. The social anthropologist Edward Hall claims 60% of all our communication is nonverbal.
The Do’s and Taboos of Body Language Around the World
I have read an article by Roger Axtell entitled: Gestures: The Do’s and Taboos of Body Language Around the World” and this is really worth sharing.
First, the Greeting Gestures:
Shaking hands is the western custom of greeting and Americans are taught from an early age to do so with a firm solid grip.
It is also the customary form of greeting for Asian countries like China, Taiwan, and Philippines but Asians favor a gentle grip. Sometimes, the nod or slight bow for greeting is sufficient.
Bowing is the traditional Japanese and Korean greeting. The person of lower rank bows first and lowest. The proper way is to bow about 15 degrees with hands sliding down toward the knees or at the sides, back neck stiff and eyes averted. The formal bow is about 30 degrees. Although it is not necessary for other nationalities, a slight bow demonstrates that you respect their customs.
Filipinos have a unique way to greet one another. This is the “eyebrow flash”, which is merely a quick lifting of the eyebrows.
For most Asian countries, prolonged direct eye contact is considered impolite and even intimidating for most Asian countries but for Americans, not looking directly in the eyes means shyness.
Second, Touch Gestures:
Most cultures are not touch-oriented societies so avoiding prolonged body contact is necessary except when riding buses or trains where pushing and shoving is very common.
Americans are also not touch-oriented… and they even stand about 30 inches apart from one another. This is what they call their personal “comfort zone”.
On the other hand, Asians in general are touch-oriented. They sometimes wrap their arm around their friend’s neck as a sign of friendship.
Third, Beckoning Gestures:
Most Asian people beckon someone by facing the palm downward and moving the fingers in a scratching motion. Using the palm up with a curling motion is considered to be rude and used only for animals.
This is different from Americans wherein they wave to another person and make a curling motion with the palm upward.
When it comes to pointing objects, Filipinos have a peculiar way of doing it. This is the pursing of the lips and pointing with the mouth.
Fourth, Other Gestures:
V usually designates “victory” or “peace”. In England, when done upside down, it is obscene.
The OK gesture is like this. In France, this means zero. In Japan, it means money.
The “thumbs up” is used for hitch-hiking in America. In Nigeria, this is rude. In Germany and Japan, this is the signal for “one”.
So in this world of gestures, be aware of the many body signs and customs around you… or better yet… if you are confused with a gesture, ask the person what it signifies.
And don’t forget the universal gesture… SMILE.