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Typical Examples of cultural differences

The perception is different and often selective:

  • Expressions are differentiated according their importance: for the Inuits (Eskimos) snow is part of their everyday life, therefore many words (e. g. over 10 substantives) exist to describe it. Similarly the Zulus use 39 different descriptions (singular words) for the color „green”.
  • In Arabic countries the odors (of condiments, coffee etc.) are often perceived in more differentiated ways than e. g. in northern America.
  • In Asian countries the perception of time is rather past-oriented (ancestors, values), in Latin American countries as well as southern European countries rather present-oriented, and in western Europe as well as Noth America rather future-oriented.

Behavior and gestures are interpreted differently:

  • Shaking the head in a horizontal direction in most countries means „no”, while in India it means „yes”, and in hindi language the voice lowers in pitch at the end of a question.
  • Showing the thumb held upwards means in Latin America, especially Brazil, but also in many other countries „everything’s ok”, while it is understood in some Islamic countries as well as Sardinia and Greece as a rude sexual sign. Furthermore, the sign of thumb up may signify the number "one" in France and a few other central european countries.
  • „Everything ok” is shown in western European countries, especially between pilots and divers, with the sign of the thumb and forefinger forming an „O”. This sign means in Japan „now we may talk about money”, in southern France the contrary („nothing, without any value”), in Spain, some Latin American countries, Eastern Europe and Russia it is an indecent sexual sign.
  • In North America as well as in Arabic countries the pauses between words are usually not too long, while in Japan pauses can give a contradictory sense to the spoken words by the meaning of pauses. Enduring silence is perceived as comfortable in Japan, while in Europe and North America it may cause insecureness and embarrassment. Scandinavians, by Western standards, are more tolerant of silent breaks during conversations.
  • Laughing is connoted in most countries with happiness - in Japan it is often a sign of confusion, insecureness and embarrassment.
  • In the UK Ireland and Commonwealth countries, the word „compromise” has a positive meaning (as a consent, an agreement where both parties win something); in the USA it may rather have negative connotations (as both parties lose something).
  • In Mediterranean European countries, Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa, it is normal, or at least widely tolerated, to arrive half an hour late for a dinner invitaiton, whereas in Germany and Switzerland this would be extremely rude.
  • If invited to dinner, in many Asian countries and Central America it is well-mannered to leave right after the dinner: the ones who don’t leave may indicate they have not eaten enough. In the Indian Sub-Continent, European and North American countries this is considered rude, indicating that the guest only wanted to eat but wouldn’t enjoy the company with the hosts.
  • In Africa, saying to a female friend one has not seen for a while that she has put on weight means she is physically healthier than before or had a nice holiday, whereas this would be considered as an insult in Europe, North America and Australia.