In sync with words

Have you ever noticed how our actions and expressions often convey exactly the opposite of what we are speaking? The gestures seem to be totally out of sync and quite confusing to the person you are conversing with. As with the rest of the world, the United States has its own set of conventions and gestures. Check out some of them.

  • If it is strictly a business acquaintance, a firm handshake, accompanied by direct eye contact, is the standard greeting in the United States. Sometimes, among very good friends who have not seen each other for long intervals, women may give a short hug to other women and men may quickly kiss the cheek of a woman. Males rarely hug one another, however. Occasionally, men may shake hands with the left hand either covering the handshake or lightly gripping the forearm. 
  • Direct eye contact in both social and business circles is very important. Not doing so would plainly mean boredom or indifference. 
  • Waving 'hello' or 'goodbye' is done by extending the arm, palm facing down and waving the hand up and down at the wrist joint. Another variation is to raise the arm, palm outward, and move the whole arm and hand back and forth like an inverted pendulum. Interestingly, in many countries this is a signal for 'no'! So watch out!
  • Winking in America can imply diverse messages - flirtation, friendliness, amusement, or to signal 'I am just kidding.' So this needs some amount of judgment on your part to figure out what the person is trying to say.
  • Driving signs might be a little tricky especially for Indians, who are more used to the right hand driving conventions. Indicators in cars are mostly used as turning signals. If these are not operating, or if cyclists wish to signal for a turn, the hand signals vary slightly. Extending the left arm straight out of the driver's window means 'I plan to turn to the left,' but if the arm is bent upward it means 'I plan to turn to the right's
  • If you want to call someone, you can beckon by either raising the index finger and repeatedly curling it in and out, or by raising the hand (palm facing inward) and waggling the fingers back toward the body. 
  • At a restaurant or café, if you need to call a waiter, just raise one hand to catch his eye. To signal that you want the check (that is the bill), make a writing motion with both hands, one hand to indicate the paper, the other making a writing motion.
  • Americans generally respect queues and will form lines in an orderly fashion. To shove and your way through the line will probably generate both anger and verbal complaints.
  • There are two well-known insulting gestures in the United States - the middle finger thrust and the forearm jerk. It is wiser to avoid them.
  • You might find most Americans talkative by nature. Americans by and large are uncomfortable with silence in a conversation. Therefore during a business or social meeting, if a gap occurs they will quickly try to fill in with conversation. The American society demands a high level of communication in all spheres of their life. Not only are they good communicators, they also expect the same from you.

These pointers are not the diktat for non verbal communication in this country but frequent ones you are bound to come across. There maybe many more you'll come across. So, thum's up! I mean. good luck!