Import From China Business

2010-2014  Copyright

A practical guide for starting a small business

Return from Body Language Course to Home Page

Return from Body Language Course to International Business Travel

Body Language Course

A Body Language Course - Why?

A Body Language Course designed for the international business person is a definitely an asset.  It is said that only 10% of our human communication comes from words or language but 90% comes from body cues.

Photo Credit: Elisa Hiding Pose - Elisabeth Sophia Fuchs

Body Language International Scenarios

International Body Language can result in one of three scenarios.

  1. A body language is interpreted totally different depending on the culture which leads to miscommunication.
  2. A body language is meaningful in one culture but it has no meaning in other cultures.  This leads to non-communication.  For example, a Japanese saying "saa" and scratching his head due to embarrassment has no meaning in other cultures.
  3. A body language is universally consistent no matter what culture it is.  It is meaningful and the message is consistent. This is your best case scenario.

Hand Gestures and International Body Language

Given the potential of miscommunication or non-communication, knowing the different meanings of the same body language due to different cultures is vital for the person dealing in international trade such as import from China.  


The A-OK sign was given by President Richard Nixon when he landed in Brazil.  A-OK hand gesture used in America seems innocently enough. It means OK in America.  However, this hand gesture embarrassed the Brazilians because it means a woman's vagina. The same sign in Japan means money and in French it means zero or nothing.

Thumbs Up

A thumbs up seems very common.  Pilots all over the world give a thumbs up after a flight to signify a good landing.  A thumbs up in a British influenced country such as Canada, the U.S., Australia, UK, and New Zealand means to hitch a ride or a job well done.  But in many other non-British influenced nations such as Nigeria, a thumbs up is a vulgar insult.  In Japan, a thumbs up means the number 5 while in Germany, the same gesture means a number 1.

V for Victory or Peace

A V sign with your palm facing away from you means victory in Britain but the same sign with the your palm facing towards you means something vulgar.  It means "up yours".  The Victory gesture was first popularized by Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the Second World War.

Hook' Em Horns Sign

A raised fist with index finger and baby finger extended up means 2 out in American baseball.  This is also the sign of the mascot for the University of Texas.  However, it also means that your wife is cheating on you in Italy.  In Africa, it means that you are cursed. The same sign as worn by Brazilian women in jewelry means good luck.


International Similarities & Differences in Body Language

Here are some commonalities and differences in body language from a global perspective:

Facial expressions

Facial Expressions to show emotions are universal around the world. The communication of a smile or a laugher to show happiness or a frown to show displeasure is perceived the same whether you are negotiating an import deal in China or walking down the streets of France.

Territorial Space

The comfortable distance between two individuals differs from country to country.  The distance is very close, almost touching in Latin America and in Italy.  This is very uncomfortable for nationalities from the UK, U.S. and especially Asia.  Territorial space influences the way we greet one another.  In European countries of France, Belgium and Netherlands, people greet one another or say good-bye by kissing the other person on the cheek once, twice and even three times.  The American and the British prefer a more distant handshake.

Blowing Your Nose

Covering your nose with a tissue or handkerchief to blow your nose is a way to prevent diseases from spreading but it is also cultural. This is a common practice in European and Western nations. However, it is the opposite in Asian countries.  People spit and blow their nose openly in the public not worrying where their mucous and secretions land.  This practice often horrifies the westerner visiting places like China on business.

Keeping a Sniff Upper Lip

People from some countries such as Britain tend to be more reserved then people from other nations.  The unemotional facial gesture was popularized by King Henry VIII as a means to demonstrate his royalty and superiority.  Such cold, unemotional image of the British still occurs today.

Patting on the Head

A pat on a child's head in America means affection but the head is considered sacred and should not be touched in other parts of the world.

7 International Body Language Tips

Here are seven body language tips to help you with your international dealings:

  1. It is impolite to wink at someone in Hong Kong.
  2. It is bad manners to stare into someone's eyes in Japan. Look at the person's neck instead.
  3. Bow rather than shake hands in Japan.
  4. Present business cards with both hands in Japan.
  5. Use your right hand to present things and to eat when you are in the Middle East or the Far East.  The use of the left hand is considered unclean.
  6. Showing the sole of your shoes to an Arab is an insult. Be careful how you sit in public.
  7. A nod is a no and shaking of the head means yes.  These countries seem to have this reversed expression: Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia.

Body language has an important influence in the business world on our decisions.  Think of all the body language cues in a job interview in your own country.  When we travel across the world, we must take into consideration all the nonverbal cues to make us more successful.  It ultimately impacts who we like to do business with.

Given the differences in culture and how it impacts Body Language, it is no wonder that mixed messages are often received in international business dealings.  It is well worth the time to take a look at a Body Language Course.

Real Experiences!

Barbara T.  - Import to New Zealand

“There is little information available on the cultural aspects of doing business abroad. Thanks for educating us aspiring import entrepreneurs!”