Body language: How about a European Gestures Dictionary?

February 23, 2016 11:23 am

Gesture dictionary

When a dog and a cat are approaching each other physically, their body language can be fully contradictory. Whereas the dog may wag its tail to demonstrate contentment and being happy, a feline wagging its tail displays being extremely annoyed and perhaps even angry. Putting both animals together in the same room while each of them demonstrates a wagging tail is a recipe for disaster for both animals and probably for the room itself too.

We humans like to consider ourselves in general as beings of a higher intelligence since, inter alia, we master verbal and written language and most of us here in Luxembourg are certainly multilingual. The majority of our communication is however taking place in a nonverbal manner.

How multilingual are we in understanding each other’s non-verbal communication in an international setting? In order to be multilingual in understanding non-verbal communication, one has to be multicultural at the same time. Specific gestures and body language are often elements that are embedded in a particular culture. Take for instance the high five we share with someone as a gesture of celebration, or when mutually agreeing on a good joke. This form of haptic communication is widely spread in Europe. The Greeks, however, give a handshake instead of high five to express the same emotion. On top of that, most people would interpret a handshake as a neutral, but polite way of greeting.

When a Dutch person enjoys some delicious food, there is a particular gesture to express this in a nonverbal way; the right hand is raised to ear level with the palm facing the cheek and the hand is waved back and forth a couple of times. This very same gesture has a completely different meaning in Portugal for example, since it means that the interlocutor is in deep trouble. A Portuguese will nonverbally express enjoying good food by pulling his or her earlobe.

body language

The examples of such differences in nonverbal communication leading to hilarious or embarrassing situations, or straight away to miscommunication, are endless. Would it therefore not be high time for a European Gestures Dictionary, in order to avoid cat and dog like situations?


CorineKlipWritten by Corine Klip
Study visitor at TermCoord
Former data analyst at Morningstar




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