Throughout the world we all speak different languages and live by different cultural norms. To this end, it is not only important for us to learn the language of the country we are visiting, but also taking into account their way of interaction.
There are various social norms upon first meeting and greeting someone within a business or social environment. In much of the West a handshake is the culturally acceptable normality upon meeting someone, however even here there can be differences. In Northern Europe, a quick handshake of only a few seconds would be considered normal, whereas, in Southern Europe and Latin America, a longer warmer embrace will take place and cheek kissing may also occur as a welcome. In Africa, the normality is that handshakes vary on time, but the strength of the grip is usually softer and in Japan the greeting is normally a bow.
You may also want to check what the normal amount of eye contact should be. In Europe and North America showing eye contact is important! Whether it’s intermittent or continuous; it’s important at conveying your attention and interest to the recipient of your conversation. However, in many African, Asian and Latin American cultures it is traditionally considered that continuous and extended eye contact is rude and that it should be kept brief; the opposite of what can be considered of the Middle East where holding each others gaze conveys trust and sincerity.
Taking note of the different gestures in cultures should save you risking offending someone or misinterpreting what they are saying! Nodding your head may be seen as acknowledgement, acceptance and agreement in most countries; however, in Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey it often means the opposite. What you consider harmless may be considered rude by certain cultures. Making a circle with your thumb and forefinger, widely acceptable in Europe and North America, indicating the “O.K” gesture means something totally different in Brazil, where it can be considered on a par with giving the middle finger, from a European point of view.
Most importantly remember that interaction varies from country to country, continent to continent and culture to culture, so reading up on different cultures before a visit is advisable; don’t risk offending someone unintentionally. If you are not sure on how to act, let the other person lead the interaction and follow their lead.