Going Global? Understand These Gestures
April 12, 2017
Travel website AFAR.com recently put together a list of common forms of nonverbal communication in Europe. If you're looking to work with international clients from there, make sure you understand what these gestures mean in each country, because it's not always the same.
Fingertip kisses: Americans traditionally associate the act of giving one's fingertips a light smooch and then flinging them out in the air in front of them with Italians, but you'll also see the gesture used in France, Germany, and Spain. Typically, it's a compliment to the chef, but it's probably not bad news if clients use it to describe a listing.
The under-eye tug: If someone puts a finger just under his or her eye and pulls the skin down a little, consider yourself warned. In Spain and Italy, it's generally just a friendly hint to watch out for someone who's watching you, or who might be trying to scam you. But in Greece and France, it may be more ominous.
Nose tapping: This common gesture is important to remember during negotiations; it means something is secret and shouldn't be mentioned. But in Italy, it can also be a signal to watch out, and in France and Belgium, it indicates a potential threat.
The hand fling: Particularly in Spain, people may indicate they feel something is crazy or painfully expensive by flinging their hand back and forth with loose fingers and wrist at about shoulder height while sucking in their cheeks. In France, the same hand gesture without the cheek sucking may be a reaction to bad news.
Chin flicking: This action is very confusing because the meaning varies widely not only by location, but also depending on the context of your conversation. In Italy and France, the borderline-rude gesture means you're uninterested or bothered, while in Portugal, it just means "I don’t know."
Table drumming: Knocking lightly once or twice on a table or desk can work as a greeting when Europeans can't shake hands. A knock at the end of a meeting is usually meant as a thank-you.
Source: 10 Essential European Gestures to Learn Before Your Next Trip, AFAR (March 22, 2017).
Updated: October 18, 2019