How well do you understand body language? A cross-cultural quiz


Leonard Nimoy demonstrating the Vulcan salute

When learning a new language, it is essential to learn not only what to say, but what to do with your hands, face and body while saying it.  Anyone who has traveled or lived in a foreign country knows that gestures and body language can carry you a long way when you are lacking in words.

This week, we’re doing a series of posts from various cultures on gesture, personal space and body language.  But first, here is a quiz to see how well you’d fare in non-verbal communication in several parts of the world:


1. How do you ask someone to come over to you politely in Japanese?

a) put your hand out palm up and curl your index finger towards your body repeatedly

b) put your hand out palm up and curl all fingers up repeatedly

c) put your hand up in front of you palm out and then wave towards yourself repeatedly

d) put both arms out straight palms up and lift your arms up and in towards your body

2. To say “I/me” you should point at your own body where?

a) the nose

b) the side of the head

c) the stomach

d) the chest


3. True or False: It is essential to say “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” when you bump into someone in a crowded space.

4. True or False: It is not uncommon to see two women friends holding hands.


5. When friends greet and part with one another in France, how many kisses do they typically give each other?

6. Are hugs customary as a greeting in France?


7.  True or False: The V-sign (peace sign in U.S.) or putting up index and middle fingers with the palm facing out is considered rude in UK and Ireland.

8.  True or False: Irish people often wave or hold two fingers up when driving past one another.


9. The V-sign (peace sign in the U.S.) indicates what number in Arabic?


10. Texas Long-Horn fans beware! In Italy, the horns sign that fans use at UTexas games has a different meaning.  It’s a sign:

a) of the devil

b) to say to someone that their partner is cheating on them

c) to say that someone is as ugly as a bull

d) to put a hex on someone


How’d you do?

Check your answers with the key below.

9-10 correct: Body language master -You are ready for world travel. Just brush up on your verbal language skills, and you are good to go!

7-8 correct: Body language connaisseur –  You are adept with body language in some of the regions tested. Get out and gesture freely!

5-6 correct: Body language learner – Some body language may get lost in translation, but you figured out a lot of these situations correctly. Brush up so you don’t make any body language no-nos.



1. c, Here is a video showing a demonstration.  2. a, This symbol may be used in English to say something like “Right on the nose.” or “Bingo!” but in Japan it is used for instance to ask, “Who, me?” 3. False; as our tutor says “Chinese people have very small personal spaces between each other. Therefore, it is not necessary to say “I am sorry!” for those unintended slight bumps.” 4. True, adult female friends may be seen holding hands. No romantic relationships is implied. 5. Between 2 and 4, though 2 is most common. Though this varies by region. Here’s a site showing the variation by region at least according to their calculations. 6. No, while American friends often greet one another with a hug, in France hugs as a greeting are not customary. 7. False, this gesture is the victory sign made famous by Winston Churchill and is also understood to mean peace nowadays in the UK/Ireland. However, the same gesture with the palm facing inward is a rude gesture, the equivalent of the middle finger in America. 8. True, people often greet one another this way, even if they don’t know one another. 9. The number seven which is written in Arabic like this: ٧ . 10. b

Image credit: Leonard Nimoy by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons licensed under the Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0