People Innovation Excellence

Nonverbal Cues in Diverse Cultures: Actions Speak Louder than Words!

Do you have friends from different countries? Have you ever been misunderstood because of your gestures? For instance, you give “OK” sign to your Japanese friends to express that you agree with them but they react differently by curling up their eyebrows in a frown. Why? It occurs because they fail to understand your “Ok” sign by interpreting it as “money” instead of the approval of something. To communicate is to understand people and their culture. So, let’s learn some diverse cultural interpretation of nonverbal cues in different countries based on Lexika (2018)!


To an American, this signal means “Ok”, “see you later” or “cool” while in Iran, it is considered a rude gesture, same as the raised middle finger. Meanwhile, it is used to express “you are the best!” in China and “thank you” in Brazil.

2. Nodding your head

We all know that this signal is another way to say “yes” or “ok” in order to express an agreement. Contrary to popular opinion, it is a sign of disagreement or “no” in Bulgaria.

3. The sign of the horns

It is well-known as a rock and roll sign in most parts of the world but Italian, Greek, and Spanish people show it to signal that their partners are unfaithful.

4. The V sign

The majority of people in this universe employ the V sign to convey “victory” or “peace.” However, when you show it with the palm facing inwards to people in England, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa, it has a similar meaning as raising your middle finger.

Those examples ascertain that nonverbal messages in a society can have completely different meanings in another society (Matsumoto, 2006). In conclusion, when intercultural people communicate, they need to equip themselves with cross-cultural knowledge to avoid misunderstanding as well as to maintain a good relationship.

Keep learning & Keep growing!


Lexika. (2018, April 09). Cultural differences in nonverbal communication. Retrieved from Lexika:

Matsumoto, D. (2006, June 19). Culture and Nonverbal Behaviour. Retrieved from

Published at :
Written By
Nina Amalia Nurichsania, M.Pd
English Lecturer | BINUS Malang
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