As an expert in your industry, you are consistently updating your knowledge base with pertinent information and details about clients and corporate policies. You rely on knowing the facts and figures required to seal deals and work with partners. However, successful business trips abroad don’t only depend on the details in your briefcase.
Having a working knowledge of cultural differences as you visit foreign nations is essential to your success around the world. Many of our American gestures are pretty commonly understood across the globe, but some of them are insults. Consider these gestures to avoid while traveling:
- Thumbs Up: While it’s an assuring gesture in the states and refers to the number one in France, the thumbs up signal is a big insult in many nations. Meaning “up yours” in West African countries and the Middle East, your positive gesture could easily turn a done deal into a feud. Similarly, giving the thumbs up in Australia and Greece can get you in trouble as it’s commonly understood as “sit on this!” In Thailand, it’s associated negatively and in Islamic countries, the gesture is a rude sexual display.
- “A-OK” Sign: While you may be trying to indicate that everything is alright with you, the “A-OK” sign symbolizes a body orifice in Greece, Spain, and Brazil. The signal is an insult to homosexuals in Turkey and it indicates the evil eye in Middle Eastern countries.
- Nod/Head Shake: In the United States, nodding your head up and down is a gesture for “yes,” and shaking it side-to-side indicates “no.” Pretty simple, right? In Greece and Bulgaria, the gesture symbolizes the opposite!
- Soles of Your Feet/Shoes: Because the feet and shoes are generally considered unclean from walking around outside, many places find it insulting to see or touch the soles of the feet/shoes. To people in India, the Middle East, and Asia, it’s the lowest part of the body and never displayed to others. You may not think it’s such a problem to avoid displaying the bottom of your shoes until you cross your legs in a meeting or during a meal. As you do that, your sole is immediately visible. Be careful! Along this same thread is the requirement to remove your shoes when going inside in many countries. Pay attention to local customs and how your host acts for cues.
- “Come Here” Gesture: While it’s easy to get someone’s attention and summon them over in America, using your hand and fingers with motion toward your body is highly forbidden in many Asian nations. Reserved only for dogs in many areas, it’s offensive and may even be considered assault. It’s also considered a rude gesture in Slovakia, eastern Asia, and Singapore.
- Talking with Your Hands: In America and Italy, it’s pretty common to “talk with your hands” while having a conversation or making a presentation. But, in Japan, it’s simply impolite. Also, in northern European countries, the gestures make you appear insincere and overly dramatic, lessening the impact the comments you’re making to a client.
As you prepare to travel to any foreign nation, it’s imperative to polish up your knowledge of local customs and taboos.