Body Language for Travel

Behavioral Investigator, Vanessa Van Edwards, says the right body language can help make our travels safer, more comfortable and more rewarding too.  She stopped by to share her tips.

Read more interesting information from Vanessa's articles in the Huffington Post or on her Science of People Facebook page.

Body Language Every Traveler Must Know
Are you about to travel somewhere exotic this summer? Here are some body language gestures that are different across the globe and tips for travelers.
First, let's talk travel body language basics.

1. Waiting in Line

While waiting in line you want to make sure you claim your space. This prevents cutting and shoving. Stand slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Especially for women. This shows you are claiming your space and people should not mess with you.

2. Gate Agents / Ticket Sellers / Stewardesses

If you need to ask for a favor, book a ticket or stay on someone's good side you have to make sure you show good body language. Whenever you are at a counter always keep your hands visible. These are your trust indicators have them on the counter and relaxed--not in fists which shows anger and impatience. As you are speaking you can gesture to to help with language barriers and trust.

3. In Small Seats

This is a big one. First prep ahead and use Seatguru.com which is a free service to get the best seats. If you are still stuck with a bad one do this on the plane:

  • Put the arm rest down immediately.
  • Put your bag between your legs so you take up a wide seating position with your feet on either side--claims more space.
  • Don't get into an elbow war. People are reciprocal. Give them some time with the armrest and then lightly touch your elbow to their upper arm. This should signal them that its your turn. If they are really impolite ask to go to the restroom and then take the armrest when you get back.

4. Avoiding Pick-Pockets

Don't look like a victim. Keep your chin and chest up. Show you are looking around and look into people's eyes. If someone makes you suspicious look at them so you get a good idea of what they look like. They will recognize they have been spotted. Walk with purpose and roll your shoulders down and back. This also makes it harder for someone to pull your purse off of you.

5. Gestures Not to Make Abroad
France:
We see the A-OK gesture as a gesture for “OK” or “excellent”. In France, however, it means “0”. You’re making the number zero with your thumb and index finger and this can cause some very confusing situations.
Imagine being in a restaurant in France. The waiter comes up to your table to ask if the meal is satisfactory and you make the A-OK gesture. While you’re meaning to say the meal is excellent, you’re actually telling the waiter you rate it as “zero” or worthless.
Britain:
In the Second World War, Winston Churchill was famous for showing the V for Victory sign. You make this sign by raising your index finger and your middle finger with your palm forward (see right). This is a perfectly okay symbol! Make sure, however, that you don’t make the same gesture with your palm turned inwards. This becomes a “fuck you” gesture- Britain’s equivalent to giving someone the finger.
Turkey and Greece:
The Western symbol for “Stop” should be avoided in Greece and Turkey. You make this symbol with all your fingers raised and your palm turned outward. While in the Western world we mean stop, the Greeks and Turks will interpret this as “go to hell”. Clearly, this is not the best gesture to make if you’re visiting their country.
Mediterranean Countries:
In the U.S., this gesture (pictured right) is used for the University of Texas and occasionally at rock concerts. In Mediterranean countries, this gesture means something completely different. If you use this gesture, you’re not saying someone rocks, but rather that his or her partner is being unfaithful. This gesture should not be used outside the U.S. unless you’re absolutely sure you’re not insulting someone with it.
Africa and the Middle East:
In the U.S., this gesture is a positive one. In the Middle East and Africa, this gesture means something completely different. If you use this gesture, it is an equivalent of the finger and other vulgar meanings.

6. Greetings:
Greetings are often tricky when meeting someone from another culture. Do you shake hands or kiss? Do you hug or nod? Observing two people from different “incompatible” cultures greet each other can be quite funny to observe. Here are some general rules of thumb:

  • Handshakes are done in most Western countries including the U.S., Britain, Australia and Germany.
  • Kissing is another area where you can get into trouble. How many kisses do you give? Again, this depends on the nationality of the person you’re greeting. Someone from one of the Scandinavian countries will give you only one kiss, while the Dutch and some Middle Eastern countries go for three kisses.
  • Hugging isn’t as common as the handshake, but it is used in some countries. In Mexico, the abrazo is their form of a hug- a standard greeting. Similarly, the Greek and the Italians hug on a first meeting.
  • Bowing is used by the Japanese. But you want to observe what they do first.

7. Observe First

The saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” holds very true whenever traveling. You’ll encounter cultural body language traits that you’re unfamiliar with. Instead of clinging to your own values and culture, why not try to blend in? Start by observing how the locals act with each other. What gestures do they make? How close do they stand together? Do they touch each other a lot or do they avoid contact? How fast do they talk? By observing these things and then trying them yourself, you will be more readily accepted in this other culture, even if you’re just visiting. Moreover, people will highly appreciate it if you try to learn their language and respect their culture. This will help build rapport and possibly new relationships.

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