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Hand Gestures and Cultural Differences

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Hand Gestures and Cultural Differences

COM 200
Instructor Darin Youngs
February 12, 2011

Hand Gestures and Cultural Differences In society today we feel that we have a pretty good grasp on what gestures of our body are appropriate and which ones are not. That may be true in our social realms but what happens when we travel to another country? Or when we are surrounded by people of a different culture? It is important to know the habits of cultures you are planning on visiting as a simple “thumbs up” could be a rude and socially unacceptable gesture. We learn that “Common hand gestures…routinely sow confusion in everything from the simplest tourist transaction to moments of great import” according to the article “Hand Gestures” by Boris Kachka. Gestures that we do every day in a warm and inviting way, like waving hello for example, can be misunderstood in the wrong environment. When we wave hello to a friend across the room we may wave our arms back and forth. In many cultures this means “no” and “in India for “come here.”” (Kachka, 2008, p. 112) These are motions that we may do without thinking, an automatic reaction to get a friends attention or to greet them. We as travelers may even read a persons greeting incorrectly. For example, in Greece and Italy making a “beckoning motion” with your hand means hello. When traveling there are many different things that can be misconstrued by those watching you. In Greece, for instance, if you were to hold out your hand in front of you as if to say “stop” you would instead be casting a curse called the moutza. (Kachka, 2008, p. 112) Imagine walking down the street and having a complete stranger casting a curse on you. This would not be welcomed and certainly would be considered a hostile gesture. In some Asian cultures this action means that you are requesting permission to speak. If you were to give a thumbs up sign to an Iraqi you would instead be saying “Up yours.” (Kachka, 2008, p. 112)

Culturally we learn what is acceptable and what is not from those around us. These are actions that have been passed down for generations. Some of these may include flipping someone off. This is an action that we know to be obscene, crass, and a direct insult. This gesture dates back over 2500 years in Ancient Greece. This same emotion, insult, or thought is given as an “ok” sign in France and Latin America. Many people who consider themselves well versed in another language may portray the exact opposite when visiting another country if they have not also learned the nonverbal cues and cultures of where they are visiting. There are many different ways to show your knowledge rather than just speaking the language. Age, gender, and social class are only a few of the instances that must be considered when traveling to another place. In some Asian countries the older the individual whit whom you are speaking the higher you would raise your hands above your head when you bow. This is a sign of respect. (Kachka, 2008, p. 112) Whereas in many western cultures the elderly are looked down upon or disregarded all together. Nonverbal communication is just as, if not more, important than the verbal communication we may engage in. Though the insult may be unintended with some research into the culture that a person wishes to visit would greatly reduce many misunderstandings. By realizing that there is more to communication than just what we say there may be bridges built that help to span the cultural differences.
References
Kachka, B. (2008, April). Hand Gestures. Conde Nast’s Traveler, 43(4), 112. Retrieved February, 12, 2011 from Reference Library. (Document ID: 1616098011).…...

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