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The confusing gestures


Martin Opatrný is a Communication expert and advisor on Meida and Crisis Communication. He gained his present experience both in the private sector and in civil service. Before his previous engagement as spokesperson and advisor for the Prague City Hall Opencard project, Martin had worked in Interel – the European strategic communications group that offers an integrated approach to top level public relations and affairs. He worked also as the press secretary and spokesperson for the President of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament. He has obtained most of his professional experience and skills in the Public Relations Department of the Ministry for Regional Development, where he had worked as the acting departmental head, spokesperson and the Editor-in-Chief for their official website. Martin had also acquired his practical work skills as a journalist for Czech Television, a PR agent at a private PR agency and a professional freelance writer. He now teaches Media and Crisis Communication at Charles University in Prague, conducts courses and trainings of communication and gives freelance advice over his field of expertise.

Martin graduated from the Philosophical Faculty of the Charles University in Prague, where he obtained his PhDr. degree in cultural studies, with a specialization in mass communication and psychology. He had also studied management and marketing. 

Despite the fact everyone understands nonverbal communication a lot of nonverbal gestures can be very confusing within intercultural communication. For instance smile is the universal sign of friendliness and sympathy, but many gestures have different meaning in several cultures or countries. Turning head from one side to another expresses almost worldwide a disagreement, waggling up and down conversely an agreement. The exceptions

are Greece and Bulgaria, where this means the exact opposite. In Greece means upright thumb and clenched fist “fuck you”, while in other countries people use this gesture during a hitch-hiking. Very confusing is the “o.k.” gesture – a ring of conjuncted thumb and index finger. Scuba divers and many other use this signal to say “everything is o.k.”, but in France it means “zero”, in Japan “money”, in some Mediterranean or Arabic countries “to be gay” and in Middle America “chatty woman”. European gesture of victory, thus upright forefinger and middle finger, used for the first time William Churchill and is forever linked with Václav Havel. What is for Europeans sign of victory for Australians the same gesture means “fuck you”, in Balkan countries is the victory expressed by clenched fist. Gesture of “cuckold” (upright forefinger and pinky) is using in Brazil or Venezuela as a sign against misfortune, in Malta against an evil eye.

Not only fingers have important meanings. In Buddhist Thailand is not correct to touch a head and slap e.g. is strictly condemnable and pat on the shoulder or back is considered as a slander. People in The Southwest Asia and Islamic countries understand feet as filthy part of the body and so to throw comfortably a leg over and show someone feet or soles is considered as an insult.

Only a few gestures are as universal as crossed arms. Despite the meaning is different in several countries, practically all over the world the meaning is negative. In most countries this is a symbol of self-protection or barrier, in Fiji it shows disrespect, in Philippines or Indonesia express slander, in Finland and many others it is a manifestation of arrogance. Although gestures can be confusing, the defense against possible faux pas is quite simple – it mostly suffices to perceive and respect foreign culture and observe other people… 

About the Author: Martin Opatrný graduated from the Philosophical Faculty of the Charles University in Prague, where he obtained his PhDr. degree in cultural studies, with a specialization in mass communication and psychology. He had also studied management and marketing.You can reach Martin on:

Source: Leaders Magazine -  

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