Slip of the Lip
The mouth is, of course, the prime instrument for verbal communication, but as you read in Chapter 6, body language experts believe that along with the hands, the mouth expresses more emotion than any other body part. This makes perfect sense, since the mouth often agrees with the verbal message—that is, if someone is conveying an uplifting verbal message, his mouth is rather happy looking. If that same person is expressing sadness, outrage, or grief, his mouth tells the tale, both verbally and nonverbally.
In some cultures, especially in Latin America, the lips are used to point to something. An unschooled tourist might think that everyone around him is puckering up, just waiting for a pair of lips to smooch with, but in reality, this gesture is as intimate as using your index finger to indicate which way you’re heading down the street.
Love Those Lips
Since the mouth is capable of expressing such complex emotion, it should come as no surprise that its nonverbal messages can vary depending on where you happen to find yourself on the globe.
Kissing, for example, is a universal gesture of love and affection, and you’re likely to see partners and friends smooching on city streets all over the world, except in parts of Asia, where kissing is considered a highly intimate gesture that isn’t allowed in public—not even as a form of friendly greeting.
If you find yourself waiting tables in Mexico and notice that people are trying to kiss up to you, don’t be too flattered. The kissing sound is a way to get a server’s attention in that country.
If you happen to be traveling through Italy, you might see someone gather his fingertips together and kiss them. Is this a way of getting around the whole kissing-is-too-intimate policy that some countries adhere to? No, this is a way of showing appreciation for beauty or some sort of positive occurrence. Let’s say you’ve just tasted the best cannoli you’ve ever had. You might turn to the baker and kiss your fingertips. Don’t worry—he won’t mistake this as some sort of romantic overture. He’ll appreciate the compliment.