Most of us might already know that there are gestures we use here in Germany on a daily basis which have a completely different meaning in other parts of the world. I ran into one of those ‘situations’ a while ago, when I was still allowed to dive. So – one day at the marvelous Cook Islands – we were part of a small but very international group waiting for our first dive of the day. People came from – well – Germany, Brazil, Greece, US, Venezuela and France. The French, Greek and Brazil guys did not really speak much English, so we tried to communicate a lot via sign language while waiting for our boat.
In diver language (and in many English-speaking and Northern and Western European countries), forming a circle with your thumb and the index finger means ‘everything is ok’. Greenhorn I was, and of course I used this sign outside the water to ask if they like the island of Rarotonga– which raised a laugh from the Brazil guy and a flood of curses (however not seriously meant) from the Greek gentleman. I wasn’t aware of any shortcoming on my part – but then they explained to me that in Brazil, and also in Greece, this sign means something really vulgar. Fortunately, as divers, they were used to it, and had fun fooling others that fell into their trap.
In a business relationship, you really should avoid using certain gestures. And if you are traveling to other countries you are not familiar with the culture, or if you are working a lot with colleagues from different parts of the world, it doesn’t harm to inform yourself which gestures to avoid …
A good explanation in German about differences in gestures can be found here; in English I’ll give you the choice between an article and a slideshow. And if you google for ‘gestures in different cultures’ you can find much more information. (mc)