We can communicate a lot of ideas and emotions without using words so we can say body language is very important. In some countries, for example Italy, Spain or Brazil, people use a lot of gestures and facial expressions while they are talking: they smile, nod and wave their arms and hands in the air. But in other countries, such as Japan, it’s impolite to show emotions in public. Everybody noticed that when after a great tragedy as the last earthquake nobody could be seen crying in public. That’s why it is sometimes difficult for Westerners to know what Japanese people are thinking.
Body language is international
Some body language treats are international and the same in every country. For example everybody smiles when they are happy, yawns when they are tired, frowns when they are angry or aren’t sure about something and bite their nails when they are nervous. Everyone can understand what the crowd and players are thinking in a football match if they put their hands on their head when a player misses an open goal: “I can’t believe it. What a disaster!”. And showing someone the middle finger is one of the most widespread obscene gestures throughout the Western world.
Same gestures, different meanings
Other gestures have different meanings in different countries. For example, in most countries, when people shake their heads it means “no”. But in Bulgaria, shaking your head means “yes”. In Brazil, pulling your eyelid down means “Be careful”, but in France it means “I don’t believe it”. While most Western countries have become used to the thumb-up as an informal, positive signal, normally indicating a job well done, there are cultures where a thumb-up may get you in trouble. In most Latin America and West Africa as well as in Greece, Russia and the South of Italy, the thumbs-up basically means the same as the middle finger.
Some gestures are polite in one country but rude in another. For example, making a circle with your finger and thumb means “Ok” or “absolutely fine” in the USA and the UK. But it’s not so, however, in some countries in Europe where if you use this gesture you are telling someone that you think he is a “zero”. And much worse is the meaning in Brazil or Germany, where it is extremely impolite because they can believe you are calling them “homosexuals”. When you visit another country, it’s sometimes important to know what the differences are in the use of body language as you probably won’t learn such things in most ordinary language courses.