Gestures - The DOs And TABOOs Of Body Language Around The World Essay

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– The DO’s and TABOOs of body language around the world
Axtell, Roger E. Gestures: The DO’s and
TABOOS of Body Language Around the World. Jon Wiley ; Sons, Inc, 1998
— Rev. and expanded edition.

Over the past decade the author has been
presenting seminars, speeches and workshops around the United States on
the subject of international behavior. This book is the result of accumulation
of more than ten years of research on the subject and it includes research
on his travels to England, Germany, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the
Philippines. All this reinforced a conviction that gestures are powerful
communicators used by people all over the world.

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The purpose of this book is to let people
know how powerful gestures can be when used correctly or incorrectly. He
also wants you to know how a gesture can mean one thing here and another
thing somewhere else, something as simple as a wave good bye, could get
you into a lot of trouble in another country.

This book was broken down into seven chapters:
Chapter 1, illustrated with numerous examples,
is that not only are gestures and body language powerful communicators,
but different cultures use gestures and body language in dramatically different

Chapter 2 discusses the most popular gestures
found around the world, beginning with how we greet each other. Shaking
hand is not the universal greeting. In fact, there are at least a half-dozen
other social greetings – even different ways of shaking hands. This chapter
also deals with farewells, beckoning, insulting, touching and other types
of gestures.

Chapter 3 gets into the special types of
gestures such as, American Sign Language, Tai Chi, flirting & kissing.

Chapter 4 is designed to help you learn
or trace a particular gesture, using scores of drawings.

Chapter 5 describes what the author calls
the ultimate gesture, which is simply the “smile”. It is rarely misunderstood,
scientist believe this particular gesture releases chemicals in the brain
called endorphins into the system that create a mild feeling of euphoria.

It also may help you slip out of the prickliest or difficult situation’s
world wide.

Chapter 6 is an important list of gestures
to keep in mind. It is compiled of 20 gestures that can help you separate
right from rude, and rude from crude.

Chapter 7 is a listing of country-by-country
common gestures and body languages. They group the countries by major geographic

The organization of the book was a combination
of narrative and topical. The basic point of view of the entire book was
that if you are planning to leave the United States and travel to another
country, you better either keep your hands in you pockets at all times
or know the proper gesture for the country you intend on visiting.

I would like to site some examples.

An American teenager was hitchhiking in
Nigeria. A carload of locals passed him. The car screeched to a halt. The
locals jumped out and promptly roughed up the teenage visitor. Why? Because
in Nigeria, the gesture commonly used in America for hitchhiking (thumb
extended upward) is considered a very rude signal.

An American couple on an auto tour in Australia
was stopped by a police officer in Sydney for failing to signal before
turning. Since they were tourists the officer gave them only a friendly
warning. Relieved, the American man responded with a smile and the thumbs-up
sign. The police officer became enraged, ordered the couple out of the
car, called a backup, searched the car, and finally gave the driver an
expensive ticket. Later, back in their hotel and recounting their experience,
the tourist learned that in Australia the thumbs-up gesture means “screw
As you can see this book has a humorous,
but yet serious overtone. It covers important aspects of body languages
& gestures in society which is serious stuff, that has a very strong
impact on all that come in contact with you. Yet the author is able to
express it in a comical nature. I enjoyed the book immensely.

There are many ways the ideas in this book
can be related to sociology. In fact the whole book is directly related
to the subject of sociology especially the culture aspect of it. I will
explain in the following paragraphs.

Anthologists divide our actions and gestures
into three broad categories: instinctive, coded and acquired.

Instinctive gestures are those we do almost
unconsciously. An example would be when we are suddenly shocked or surprised,
we tend to slap the back of our heads.

Coded, or technical, gestures are created
by preestablished agreement. For example hand signals used by TV directors,
referees, umpires and brokers in the stock market.

Acquired gestures, meaning our socially
generated and acquired gestures. This grouping of gestures has been loosely
and informally collected among separate societies. The acquired gestures
come from different cultures. Each individual culture or sub-culture has
its very own acquired gestures or mannerisms.

I learned the difference between what we,
as Americans, consider to be consensual in the area of gestures. If you
attempt to take your American gestures and attitudes to another country,
you’re in for quite the culture shock. An example of the culture shock
you may experience if you were to enter a European home would be that they
always keep the bathroom door shut. Even when it is not occupied. As where
an American home usually keeps its bathroom door partially open to indicate
that the it is unoccupied. So in Europe, you would always knock on the
door first.

Touching is something that we as North
Americans are not big on. We are not touch-oriented. With good friends,
we may occasionally do some touching of the forearm or shoulder. We may
even hug our good friends, but almost never do we hug casual acquaintances.

Asians even join us in the shunning of such bodily contact. Latinos and
Middle Easterners seem to dote on it with hearty embraces and warm pats
on the back. In these places you may even see two male friends walking
hand-in-hand down the street together, and all it signifies is friendship.

If you were to see that on any street in the U.S. the first thing we as
Americans would think is ” Hey those guys are homosexuals”.

The differences in culture are amazing,
Especially in the areas of gestures. A person lacking knowledge of this
could find himself in hot water if he were to visit one of our neighboring
countries. Things that we do strictly out of habit as Americans, could
be misconstrued as rude or offensive in other corners of the world. I will
let you in on some of them.

In Austria, Men rise when a woman enters
the room. Chewing gum in public is considered inappropriate. Hands in pockets
when conversing should be avoided. Placing your hands in your lap during
a meal is considered rude. Americans usually do not abide by these rules.

In England, Scotland and Wales, Loud conversations
and any form of boisterousness in public places should be avoided. Do not
stare at someone in public. If you smoke, it is the custom to offer cigarettes
to others in your conversational group before lighting up (Not here, smokes
are too expensive).

In Turkey, Inadvertently pointing the sole
of your shoe toward someone is an insult. Ask permission before smoking.

It is considered impolite to smoke or eat while on a public street. It
is considered rude to cross your arms over your chest or having your hands
in your pocket when conversing with someone. You must remove your shoes
when entering a Turkish home. Turkish women will not converse with a man
in casual conversation until they have been formally introduced. The thing
that I found most interesting is that the “O.K.” circle made with the thumb
and forefinger signifies homosexuality in their culture.

In Iran, Shaking hands with a child shows
respect for his parents. People rarely exhibit any signs of affection in
public. The thumbs up sign is considered vulgar. Avoid blowing your nose
in public. Refrain from slouching in a chair or stretching your legs out
in front of you. Also watch that dreaded pointing the sole of your shoe
, which again is considered offensive to anyone seeing it (keep you feet
planted flat to keep yourself out of trouble).

In Saudi Arabia, A man accompanied by a
veiled woman will probably not introduce her. Among the males, an embrace
and cheek-kiss may be added to their greeting. Women are not permitted
to drive vehicles. Take your shoes off before entering a room, any room.

Any display of intimate areas of the body is disliked; this includes bare
shoulders, stomach, and calves and thighs. Smoking of cigarettes in public
is not common practice. However, it is not uncommon in some Saudi locations
to pass the water pipe or hookah around to all those present in a room.

In Japan, displays of emotion-fear, anger,
exuberance- are rare because they are taught to suppress any such displays,
especially in public. Standing with arms folded across the chest signals
that the person is thinking intently. Women should avoid wearing high heels
so as not to risk towering over Japanese counterparts. Periods of silence
may occur during meetings, do not rush to fill the silent void, they are
just stopping to contemplate. Displaying a open mouth is considered rude.

In Pakistan, eat only with the right hand
because the left hand is used for bodily hygiene and is considered unclean.

Also never offer to shake hands with your left hand for the same reason.

Women are kept separated in social situations. Two men may be seen walking
along holding hands. This is nothing more than a sign of friendship, not

Last, but not least, In the good old United
States, The only time you will see two men walking down the street holding
hands is if they are openly homosexual. Stand at least an arm’s length
away from each other while conversing or standing in public, we tend to
need our comfort zone respected. Direct eye contact is very important.

There are two well-know rude and insulting gestures in the United States.

Both are recognized in all parts of the country. They are the middle finger
thrust and the forearm jerk, these gestures could get you into trouble.

We wave to say “hello” or “good-bye”.

We must learn that every culture has different
types of values, beliefs, customs, norms and taboos. We have to except
them and respect them for what they are and who they are. When going to
other parts of the world and meeting people or when they come to our part
of the world and we greet them it is very important to put ourselves in
their shoes and not judge their traditions, values and ways of communicating.

We must educate ourselves to their ways and except them for what they are.

Our convictions and beliefs are no better than there’s, they are just different.

As human beings we must learn to adapt to each others differences and learn
to except them, which is sometimes hard for people who do not understand

Most Americans tend to be insensitive to
they ways of others, especially those who come from our neighboring countries,
which tends to create tension among those people. To be honest I found
some of the behaviors of other countries strange, such as women not being
allowed to drive a motor vehicle in Saudi Arabia. If I was not allowed
to drive because I was a female I would be quite angry. I also would probably
be one of the first people to accuse someone of being homosexual, especially
men, if I were to see two people of the same sex walking down the street
holding hands. Those are things we need to except because this is part
of someone’s culture. If this was how they were raised, and the things
that they believe to be OK, who are we to judge it?
Since reading this book I have really opened
my eyes to the way other countries do things that we might find unexceptable,
and I now find them expectable. Had I not read this book I might have never
opened my eyes to these cultural differences.

I feel that everyone should read this book.

I can not think of any reason why someone should not read this book. I
don’t feel that this book would offend anyone. Than again this is a strange
world and you never know who will be offended by what. I feel that most
people will be enlightened, supprised, and get a good laugh out of most
parts of this book. There is a part of this book that deals with “mooning”
which some may be offended by, but most people would probably get a good
laugh out of it. I personally highly recommend this book, great bedtime
reading. If you plan to travel this book is a must.


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