How would a Brit, a German or an American interpret this gesture?
Imagine this scene - you are inspecting a house with the possibility of purchasing it and you open a bathroom door to see a woman sitting naked in a bathtub. How would you expect the surprised woman to react? A British or American woman would cover her breasts with one hand and her genitals with the other, while a Swedish woman would cover only her genitals. A Muslim woman would cover her face, a Sumatran woman would cover her knees and a Samoan only her navel.
We Were Having Pizza at the Time
As we are writing this chapter, we are in Venice, Italy speaking at a conference on cultural differences. If we had never travelled to Italy, we would have been shocked by what we'd experienced. Allcultures walk on the same side of the pavement as they drive on the road. This means if you're British, Australian, South African or a New Zealander, you drive and walk to the left. The consequence is that you'd find the Italians constantly bumping into you as you walk on the pavement because, as they approach and you step to your left, they step to their right. Wearing sunglasses in foreign countries is the single biggest cause of pavement collisions between cultures because no one can see the other person's gaze to know which way they intend to step. But it's a novel way of meeting new and interesting foreigners.
You'd also be stunned when you go to shake hands to say goodbye to an Italian but, instead, you get a kiss on both cheeks.
As I departed, the Italian man kissed me on both cheeks. I was tying my shoelaces at the time. Woody Allen
As you talk with local Italians, they seem to stand in your space, continually grabbing you, talking over the top of you, yelling in fact, and sounding angry about everything. But these things are a normal part of everyday friendly Italian communication. Not all things in all cultures mean the same things.
Why We're All Becoming American
Due to the wide distribution of American television and movies, the younger generations of all cultures are developing a generic form of North American body language. For example, Australians in their sixties will identify the British Two-Fingers-Up gesture as an insult whereas an Australian teenager is more likely to read it as the number two and will recognise the American Middle-Finger-Raised as a main form insult. Most countries now recognise the Ring gesture as meaning 'OK', even if it's not traditionally used locally. Young children in every country that has television now wear baseball caps backwards and shout 'Hasta la vista, baby', even if the don't understand Spanish.
American television is the prime reason cultural body language differences are disappearing.
The word 'toilet' is also slowly disappearing from the English language because North Americans, who are rugged pioneers and log splitters, are terrified to say it. North Americans wil ask for the 'bathroom', which, in many parts of Europe, contains a bath. Or they ask for a 'rest room' and are taken to where there are lounge seats to relax. In England, a 'powder room' contains a mirror and washbasin, a 'little girls' room' is found in a kindergarten and 'comfort stations' are positioned on the motorways of Europe. And a North American who asks to 'wash up' is likely to be gleefully led to the kitchen, given a tea towel and invited to wash the dishes.