Have you ever been in trouble because you waved a particular gesture at somebody in a foreign country? Have you ever seen a hand sign that puzzled you? In Holland, we have a sign for “tasty”. This sign is executed by waving the hand next to the cheek, as if to stroke the cheek for something delicious being inside it. On travels and in daily life, I have often used this gesture as to say “thank you for this delicious food you gave me” – it is especially handy when you want to be quick to compliment your host but don’t want to speak with a mouthful.
My vast experience in dealing with people from different cultural backgrounds has taught me a lot about the many, many ways of human communication. What we say non-verbally is at least as important as the words we utter – often even more important! What we signal with our gestures or facial expressions can help us emphasize our words, but it can also contradict them.
While nodding and saying “no” is a totally normal thing for Bulgarians and Greeks, it sends mixed signals to the rest of us. Just imagine what kind of terrible misunderstandings this might lead to – the waiter in Athens keeps serving you Ouzos, because you keep shaking your head or your business partner understands that you emphatically agree to the deal, while you think you made clear you refused it…
With global commerce bringing the world increasingly closer together, intercultural interactions become part of our daily lives. Even if we all speak enough English to get deals done, there still are huge pitfalls that we might tap into if we aren’t aware of what we communicate non-verbally. Often times, when we don’t speak the language in a foreign country, we are inclined to use hand gestures to make ourselves understood. Because we believe them to be known around the world, when in fact they might actually be false friends and mean completely different things depending on where you are.
That’s why I am creating the first mobile dictionary for hand signs and gestures: Gestunary is your ideal companion for private and business trips abroad. The mobile app allows you to search gestures by country and tells you what certain movements and non-verbal expressions mean in a particular cultural environment. It also shows you gestures and lists what kind of meaning they carry in a given context. You can highlight your favorite useful gestures, save them for later and make them accessible offline. All information is authentic and checked by native speakers. Gestunary is not only a tool to prepare you for your next interaction with people from a different cultural background, I designed it to be a fun way to raise intercultural awareness, make the world a more conscious place and enable us to understand each other better.
Wouldn’t it be helpful when you go on your next business trip abroad, to take a look at Gestunary first to see what kind of gestures you should use and which you should avoid!?
Now this is your chance to do something good. In order to make the programming of this first app-dictionary of gestures happen, and to make sure that Gestunary will see daylight soon, I have started a crowdfunding campaign. This campaign can be found at www.startnext.com/gestunary/en. If I manage to get the money together in the appropriate time, a first version of the app will be available still this year before planning an even better while broader version in the months thereafter.
Please consider your own non-verbal communication and decide whether you can contribute a small donation to www.startnext.com/gestunary/en. I promise interesting facts and beautiful photography on gestures, that you probably didn’t know they existed.
Hanneke Riedijk is a Dutch business coach and communication trainer who lives and works in Berlin. Hanneke studied Japanology, Anthropology and communication, and she is fascinated by misunderstandings that arise in communication, by the typical small and funny mistakes that come with intercultural life. The generally unconscious body language of hand signs and gestures is the apple of her eye.