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Cultural Differences in Body Language

Cultural Differences in Body Language

It is well known that we use our bodies to communicate. However, it might be less well known that body language can differ greatly between cultures. In addition to learning the local language of the country you are moving to, you should also learn the regional body language. In many cases, knowing which gestures to use (or not use) can make for more efficient communication, especially if you are not fluent in the language.

From eye contact to the distance people stand apart from one another, there are small nuances in every culture. Below, some of our IMPACT Group coaches from across the globe offer stand-out differences and advice for their regions:

Jackie Martin, Canada
“Eye contact is important in Canada. Some countries consider it rude, whereas in most businesses in Canada, people may wonder what you are hiding if you don’t look someone in the eye.”

Tatiana Botta, Brazil
“In the Brazilian culture, it is okay to kiss or hug someone whom you have just met. Brazilians are also expansive in the way they talk – meaning they sometimes use loud voices and laugh a lot.

During an interview, Brazilians are less formal and prefer to develop a relationship connection.”

Margot Nick, Brazil
“In Brazil, people are more stress-free. In a casual meeting, giving a kiss on the cheek, even when meeting for the first time, is acceptable and very common. In Rio de Janeiro, there are two kisses.

Brazilians, as well as Italians, talk a lot with their hands and like to look in the eye when they speak. During interviews, the eye-to-eye contact is essential.”

Susanne Ritter, Switzerland
“When I first moved to Switzerland as an expat, I was unsure how to say hallo to people I had already met a few times when a handshake seemed no longer appropriate. I was so surprised that they kiss each other three times on the cheeks. In Denmark, we would hug each other.”

Marie Lucchini, Thailand
“Thailand is referred to as ‘The Land of Smiles.’ In Thailand, smiling is a form of subtle interpersonal-messaging, which runs deeper and perhaps more accurately than language or syntax.”

Knowing the cultural differences in your new country is important not only socially, but also while job searching and interviewing. Make sure to include learning body language along with learning the local language!

Contribution by Jill Jassmann-Sharlock.

Jill is an IMPACT Group Global Research Specialist who focuses on the unique information needs of global transferees. She also serves as IMPACT Group’s Global myIMPACT Specialist, managing content for our global client-facing website.

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