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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)
(mfe) Two blog posts that may be helpful when you want to understand how Germans work. I must admit, I would not sign everything listed here, but most of the things listed match my experiences… which again are based on the 26 things that every German was raised with, probably.
(mfe) “Why are all these people staring at me?” is a question many travelers and new arrivals ask themselves – and their German hosts. Here’s a nice article about this strange thing that we Germans don’t even realize, in fact we consider it friendly interest in somebody else (mostly).
But since this often is performed with a grumpy face (some say we invented the “resting bitch face”), people tend to think something crazy is happening or they did something wrong.
Don’t worry, it’s just the standard German Stare. Elderly Bavarian or Franconian women may have developed a higher level of expertise on it, on trains, cars, in cafes, houses, out of their windows, even in the supermarket queue.
Here’s a nice article about that: “The Germanic Stare Down”: Watcha Lookin’ at, Granny? – SPIEGEL ONLINE , a blog about the stare (and ordering a Coke): Why Germans Stare
and a video:
(mfe) Here’s a nice pic about the strange concept of “personal space” that no German
will know unless he’s lived or worked with people from abroad … I like the
difference between Finnish and French or Italian, that’s so true!
Particularly in the work place, most Europeans expect to be complimented for their good work effort. In Britain, if we didn’t get a compliment when we expected one, we might ask if everything was okay. Some people look at this negatively as “fishing for compliments”, but it’s quite a healthy practice to ensure that you get some peace-of-mind from some on-the-spot feedback about your work performance, so as not to go home on the weekend feeling unloved and unappreciated.
In Germany, don’t expect to get many compliments at work. If you do get a compliment, then it’s likely that your manager was astounded by what you were working on or – maybe – he had spent some time on an inter-cultural training course and learnt how to communicate with you better. In the case of the latter, you should praise him on his commitment in striving to be a better manager.
Just for the record, no comment from your German manager normally implies that everything’s all right and he’s happy with your work. If, however, he’s critical about what you have been working on, then you should perhaps pay attention to what he’s saying. A criticism does not necessarily imply that he’s unhappy with you, but he might expect to see some improvement in certain areas when you embark on your next project.
(mfe) Germans will slowly walk side by side, also in groups of four or five, in an subway aisle five meters wide. But when in a hurry, they would complain about people blocking access like this. Americans would walk side by side only up to two persons, and if others are in a rush, they would from a single row.
Germans tend toto socialise through complaining. 🙂