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Hand Gestures – Cultural Expectations

—-Be Aware of International Differences—-

When receiving international visitors, avoid the “OK” sign. The okay sign may signal an unspecified obscenity in Russia, Germany, Brazil, Greece, and Turkey. In France and Belgium, it means that you have no value.

Also avoid the “thumbs up” sign. This is an offensive and obscene gesture in Australia, Nigeria, Northern Greece, Sardinia, and elsewhere.

Former United States President George H. W. Bush flashed what he thought was the “V for Victory” sign to Australians in 1991. Had he been out and about, he would have been inviting a fight. Don’t even nod your head. In North America, a head nod means you are agreeing. On other continents, it can mean that you disagree. Try not to gesture at all.

Be aware of the following:

  • Unnecessary touching of yourself and others is also insulting.
  • Never pat a child’s head. In most countries, only dogs are patted on the head.
  • In many countries, there is always the possibility of a sexual harassment or other touching related lawsuit.
  • Additionally, ladies, please stop stroking your hair. This takes away from your credibility! Keep your hands at your sides, and for goodness sake, don’t touch anyone!

People are mindful of you as a professional. So be aware of the different cultural expectations of your guests, clients, and customers. The knowledge needed to be competitive in today’s global business arena is extensive and I hope that this basic review has been helpful.

If you are not familiar with a guest’s national culture, researching that culture well in advance of the visit will help to make your guest’s stay, or appointment, an enjoyable one. If this is a significant visit, you may want to have a certified international protocol professional brief you.

Nothing builds teamwork, business, and leadership skills better than having the knowledge to lead the way! Good luck!


Excerpts of blog taken from the book: Hospitality Management – People Skills & Manners on and off the Job. Copyright © 2015 Lyn Pont, Ph.D.

“Pont’s book is a must-read for anyone considering a career in hospitality.”

— Isadore Sharp, chairman and founder, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

See the book at: www.HospitalityManners.com

Visit Lyn at:       www.MannersForBusiness.com

Lyn Pont, Ph.D. – World’s Top 30 Hospitality Professionals, Global Gurus

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