Body language is universal, right?
A smile speaks in every language. Right. Right?!?
A smile usually says I’m easygoing, friendly, open, and approachable. Right?
Except for when, in the wrong context with the wrong amount of eye contact, a smile actually says that I’m just easy.
If a smile can’t be counted on to communicate the same thing across all cultural barriers, what about other body language?
How do you call your kids over to you? Do you curl one finger or scoop all of your fingers towards yourself (palm up and facing you, fingers waving towards yourself)? Here, we beckon with our palm down, and our fingers limply sweeping towards ourselves. Curling your finger here would mean, I’m beckoning you over, because once again I’m easy.
How do you wave goodbye? Well here the waving goodbye motion means, “no, I don’t want it.” Though it’s more of a once or twice hand movement, instead of over and over again.
What does a firm handshake mean to you? Assertiveness? Here its awkward. People just don’t shake hands here. The Sunday School class was learning about when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. In the US we could culturally adapt it, and say Judas betrayed Jesus with a handshake. Here, I don’t know what we’d say; Judas betrayed Jesus by standing apart, and sort of mildly acknowledging his presence with a smile.
The national culture does shake hands, but limply. And women kiss each other on both cheeks, with a hand resting lightly on their friends shoulder. So there’s that.
How do you say “yes” without words? Nod your head? Here people raise their eyebrows, nod their head up once, or nod their head down…depending on which local culture they are from.
Or do you bobble your head like some people do in India (i.e. Slumdog Millionaire)
So, I guess body language isn’t universal.