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  • Writer's pictureMarcos

Things to consider if you are going to work and live in different cultures.

A very important aspect that should not be overlooked when traveling to other countries is cultural nuances. A look, a smile, or a hug can have different meanings depending on the context and cultural background. Here are some tips to adapt and integrate into your daily routine.



Cultural traits influence communication and relationships with people from other cultures, especially in the workplace. Some examples of these traits include punctuality, greetings, voice and tone, and how they vary by country and context. It's important not to rely on stereotypes or generalizations, but to observe and respect individual and cultural differences, in order to better communicate, and avoid misunderstandings or conflicts that may arise from not knowing cultural codes.


Punctuality: It’s valued differently in different countries and can affect business meetings or informal appointments. In Germany and Japan, punctuality is a sign of discipline and respect. In the United States and Canada, punctuality is important, and keeping clients waiting is frowned upon. In France, punctuality is more flexible, and a delay of about 15 minutes is tolerated, depending on the nature of the appointment and the hierarchical position of those involved. For important appointments, being late is unacceptable.


Greetings: Greetings can vary in terms of physical contact and can lead to uncomfortable or awkward situations. Care should be taken when extending a hand or leaning in for a kiss, as these gestures can have different meanings depending on the culture. In France, kissing on the cheek is a cultural tradition, but in African and Asian countries, a respectful distance is preferred. In South Korea, a subtle nod of the head is sufficient, and in the United States, Canada, and India, physical contact is avoided. In Brazil, however, a hug is acceptable.


Voice and tone: They convey different messages depending on the culture. Attention should be paid to the ambient noise level and the communication style of the interlocutors. In Spain, speaking loudly is not criticized, as people adapt to the ambient noise. In Japan, speaking quietly is a sign of respect, and speaking loudly can be perceived as disrespectful.


Learning cultural traits can improve professional and personal relationships. Let's see how body language can vary depending on the cultural context:


  • In India, nodding is a way to express both "yes" and "no," depending on the speed, direction, and tilt of the head. A "yes" can also simply mean "I hear you," without implying agreement. To convey a negative response, an indirect approach is used, and a frontal "no" is avoided.

  • In France, direct "no" is the norm, and interlocutors are expected to be clear and frank. Body language is less important than verbal, and honesty and consistency are valued.

  • In the United States, communication tends to be direct and to the point, expressing both enthusiasm and disapproval openly. Body language is more expressive and is used to reinforce the verbal message.

A smile is not a universal cultural norm but has different meanings depending on the country. For example:


  • In the United States, a smile is a sign of kindness, trust, and respect, and workers are expected to smile a lot. The American smile is wide, genuine, and shows teeth.

  • In other countries, a smile can be a sign of nervousness, discomfort, or insincerity, and a more neutral or reserved expression is preferred. A smile can also be used to hide negative emotions or to avoid conflict.

In conclusion, it is essential to know cultural nuances, adapt body language to the context and audience, observe and practice the body language of natives, and be aware of cultural differences that can affect communication.


Published on 2023-12-5 at Expat.com

Excerpt from the article "Cultural nuances when working abroad.

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