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Crossing legs in non-J countries 2005/3/31 12:36
This is about sitting on a CHAIR and not on the floor.

In Japan, when sitting on a chair, it is impolite to cross your legs. Whenever you're talking to someone who you don't know well or who is senior to you, you should basically not cross your legs.

However, growing up in the U.S., I had seen people deliberatly cross their legs when meeting teachers, government officials, big stars on TV etc. So I had thought that that was the proper way to sit until I came back to Japan in my youth.

My question is, is it polite or impolite to cross your legs when sitting on a chair in other countries? And is it case by case? For example, is it that it's bacially impolite to cross legs, but people may deliberatly do so to creat a relaxing atmosphere? Even in front of the president?

I'd be interested to hear different customs depending on different countries. Thanks in advance!
by Uco  

. 2005/4/1 12:51
As you know growing up in the US, there isn't really a tradition of it being "impolite" to crosslegs or any setforth rules/traditions that say crossing legs formally or informally is impolite. I would say it sets a relax tone, to things, but there's no setforth rules or traditions that I know of growing up here that says crossing legs while sitting is impolite.
by george rate this post as useful

... 2005/4/1 13:04
Thanks for your quick reply, George.

Well, I guess what I'm asking is this. Is it okay to creat that relaxing tone by crossing your legs when meeting a king from a foreign country? How about when you're applying for a job interview in hope to be hired?

Actually, I'm interested in knowing so that I won't do anything wrong the next time I travel abroad, especially now that I'm an adult.

So would you say that to be on the safe side you should not cross your legs? (When I was young, I used to think it was safer to cross legs)
by Uco rate this post as useful

It depends 2005/4/1 22:24
If you're a female, proper etiquette would dictate that you cross your legs at the ankles while sitting in a chair, keeping your knees together.
This would be considered fine during any situation. It can be considered a 'closed' (non-receptive) body language gesture, though.
by suzsid rate this post as useful

in eastern europe 2005/4/2 00:34
In earstern Europe it is alsoconsidered impolite to cross your legs when in a more or less formal situation.
One can croos legs only with friends or ' in an intimate situation'
At home also even parents can make you a observation that you are behaving not respectfully while speaking with them

It is also considered impolite to put your hands in the pockets, to eat while talking though more people do it.
by yumi rate this post as useful

Quite different in Germany... 2005/4/2 02:16
In Germany crossing your legs doesn't really mean anything. As a female you will usually do it in formal situations like a job interview or something like that. Males usually don't sit like that.
In general, it can be interpreted as being cool and reserved, but not at all as impolite.
by Jessica rate this post as useful

Interesting! 2005/4/2 10:05
Wow, all your infos have been so interesting so far!

I'm hoping to hear more, also on male's customs. Thanks!
by Uco rate this post as useful

crossing legs considered more modest 2005/4/3 04:04
In the US, you'll notice female TV interviewers will cross their legs and place them at an angle.

I think it's because it's visually a more flattering position and more modest.

Sometimes, I've seen women wearing pants absent mindedly sit with knees apart so crossing their legs is considered more demure.

I was wondering...is it really that impolite to cross one's legs in Japan?

I prefer to cross my legs because it is more comfortable. Often, the chairs are too large for me and it's difficult to sit straight with feet touching the floor.
by nanshi rate this post as useful

Nanshi 2005/4/3 11:51
Nanshi, that's exactly the kind of opinion I was looking for. Crossing legs being modest; that's the image I always had in the U.S., but it won't get through here in Japan.

The Japanese custom is exactly like what Yumi mentioned about eastern Europe in her post as of April 2nd, except that here it's okay to eat while talking unless you open your mouth with food in it. The most modest way to sit on a chair in Japan is; for females to put your knees together, and for males to open your knees slightly so that there will be about a 3 inches space in between. Crossing legs is considered very casual and would be improper even if you cross them very tightly and stylishly.

If you cross your legs in a serious situation, your mother will say, "That's not polite, dear."
by Uco rate this post as useful

thank you for explaining 2005/4/3 15:05
I've read elsewhere on this forum warning against crossing one's legs while sitting in a chair, especially a during a job interview. I could not fathom why it is impolite.

Thank you for clearing it up for me.

I only knew it is impolite for a female to sit cross-legged while sitting on the floor. I guess sitting cross-legged is a "manly" position.

Conversely, crossing legs (at the knee) in a chair was considered "feminine" in the US. Men would cross their legs by placing an ankle over the opposite knee but only in informal situations. Nowadays, it's acceptable for either gender.

Since the Women's Movement in the 70s, a lot of these customs are considered "old fashioned"; they are not practical and too restrictive.
by nanshi rate this post as useful

It's about time I confess 2005/4/3 16:48
Although it is true that I set up this topic because I had plainly been wondering about it for years, I did experience a recent event that brought me back to it.

A few days ago, actor Richard Gere came to Japan and met our Prime Minister Koizumi where Mr. Gere sat crossing legs in quite a "manly" position.

Although this may have been appropriate since the PM meant it to be a casual promotion, some locals I know questioned this behavior, because Mr. Koizumi (although not fully respected :)) is the leader of Japanese politics after all, and if you were Japanese, you wouldn't cross your legs when meeting him, at least not upon the first time.

I don't know why Japan came to think that crossing legs is impolite. Perhaps it comes from the sitting culture of old Europe or even old China. But while I personally agree that crossing legs "neatly" does not look rude, it probably implies to the Japanese that the person is being "casual." Of course, it would be much better than spreading your legs while wearing a mini skirt!

On a related note, it is not appreciated to cross your legs while sitting in a commuter train in Japan. Your upper leg might get in the way of people walking down the isle and your lifted shoe might accidentally put dirt on someone else.
by Uco rate this post as useful

Language and clothing set the tone 2005/4/4 01:18
Thank you for the tip on train etiquette. I shall remember your advice.

The US prides itself on its belief of equality (difficult to achieve in real life). So not much attention is paid to how one sits.

Instead, it is language that determines formality or casualness. To speak in slang to a head of state or bounce around like a rapper would be considered impolite or uneducated.

Also, type of clothing--head rag, lots of heavy chain jewelry, extremely revealing attire for women would be inappropriate.

I don't think anyone notices how anyone is sitting unless it is extreme.
by nanshi rate this post as useful

Just to add... 2005/4/4 09:41
I've noticed that by simply crossing your legs (from your knees) depending on the type of chair you are forced to "sit back" in your chair; and in some situations this is not considered appropriate, I guess, just like you don't cross your arms in front of you (even if it's comfortable for you) if you are in business negotiation. This would be no-matter-what-culture thing, I'd say?

For myself (Japanese female), I've always been taught by my Japanese parents that crossing my legs is not polite, but by now I think it's better than having your knees "loosen" so I do cross my legs. I do make sure that I don't sit back and look too relaxed in business occasions though. Once I had a guy sitting across from me on a train (not crowded at all) glare really openly at me when I crossed my legs (I was wearing a pant suit), and relax his look when I undid it :) It was so funny I had to do/undo it several times to see his reaction *chuckle*, but anyway I do know that people in Japan over certain age think it looks arrogant, or that it is un-womanish.

When I lived in the UK, I was surprised to see some English language teachers prop themselves against the DESK, or sit on the desk, sit back and cross their legs, etc., which seemed to have been considered acceptable, while I admit that probably teachers, wanting to be more casual toward the students (instead of looking formal) might have done that intentionally. So for relaxing situations it's OK I guess :)
by AK rate this post as useful

arms and legs 2005/4/4 15:49
AK, it's nice to hear from a fellow bicultural Japanese, if you don't mind me saying so.

Speaking of crossing arms, if you were in the U.S., I think it would be completely alright to cross your arms in most occasions. On the other hand, I was taken aback in Japan when I was standing alone in an office elevator in my youth crossing arms, then suddendly as the door opened, an older colleage was standing there saying, "Wow, do you always cross your arms in the office like that?" like I shouldn't have.

For a while I couldn't accept what he said, especially because he was the only person in the huge office who never wore a tie and jacket! I guess he was just trying to be nice and teach me Japanese office manners.

Anyway, you have to admit that crossing arms as well as legs does have a impertinent tone when in Japan.
by Uco rate this post as useful

about Richard Gere . . . 2005/4/4 16:18
I don't think he meant any offense. He always speaks of respecting people and their culture. As such a person, he should have researched Japanese customs before going to Japan.

On the other hand, if he did, there would not have been this thread and I would not have learned so much!

Never having left my country, I did not realize that Europe also has a more formal culture.

BTW, I have always lived in a multi-cultural setting but I guess people become a little more casual when they live in US. Some cultures are more formal than others but not as formal as in their home country.

Thank you, everyone for your input and adding to my knowledge and understanding.
by nanshi rate this post as useful

It has less to do with etiquette 2005/4/4 20:48
Since this initial post, I've been observing people's habits a bit more.
I think, at least here in the US, crossing your legs is done more out of an emotional reaction to a situation than it is anything else. If you're nervous, tense, or non-receptive to the other person/people you're speaking with, you cross your legs at the knee. Think about this ... it's not a comfortable position to maintain for very long, so why else would you do it? If you're among friends or family, how often do you cross your legs unless you're uncomfortable emotionally?
As for crossing your arms in front of you with your hands tucked in at the waist, unless you're really cold, it's usually seen as a hostile/unreceptive pose to maintain.

Again, I've just been observing the body language of friends, family & casual acquaintances in both home & the work environment, so this is by no means 'scientific'. But I will use this example:
A co-worker of mine was on the phone with a particularly onus woman. His legs were crossed, he had on a headset, his arms were crossed and un-crossed, and his head was down. When he got off the phone he turned to talk to me and tell me about the conversation. His legs were stretched out, his arms were loose, and he was leaning forward.
by suzsid rate this post as useful

. 2005/4/4 22:39
I just wanted to note about Richard Gere as well, it is not to mention that he was laughing and started to dance with the Prime Minister, so I believe it was perfectly fine with Mr. Gere and the PM for him to have had crossed his leg. So with him dancing with the PM, to mention it was the promotion of his new film (NOT A FORMAL MEETING ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING) we have to look into the context of it.

Though I'm not a fan of Richard Gere (lol) I know he does research a lot of asian cultures and does a lot of support work.
by George. rate this post as useful

question for Uco and AK 2005/4/5 00:10
In the mainstream "Anglo" society, crossing legs may be a matter of emotion.

However, there are nuances of behavior in other cultures. Whether to respect the custom or disregard it would depend on the situation.

Uco and AK --
I plan on taking a group trip to Japan this summer. We will stay in temple lodging for a few days and will attend morning meditation/sutra chanting each day. It lasts about an hour.

Will it be acceptable to sit cross-legged on the floor during this time?

A Japan-born sensei who has lived in the US says it will be acceptable, even for the women (we will wear long skirts or pants). Is he just being kind?

I can sit cross-legged on the floor and on a chair (yes,on a chair!) for hours but cannot sit properly with legs tucked under me (ohiza)for that long.

Would it be too rude to sit cross-legged?

Uco, I will remember your train advice, too.
by nanshi rate this post as useful

responses 2005/4/5 01:02
The last thing I wanted to do was to analise Mr. Gere's character, so thank you very much for those who have kindly contributed on that part (although I read funny newspaper articles on the topic of how the PM should "dance" with politics, I'm going to back off!)

Nanshi, I've never meditated properly in my life, and I'm sure your sensei knows much better than I do. Also I do back him up by saying that in most photos I see of people meditating in temples, they have their legs crossed.

But this doesn't actually mean you can cross your legs every time you sit on any floor. Females crossing legs on the floor is considered the most rude way to sit in most situations, such as tea ceremonies and dining. It would be much better to ask if you can stretch both your legs sideways (same direction).

Anyway, seiza (sitting with your legs under your thighs) for a long time is difficult even for locals, and not being able to stand after a memorial ceremony is a typical scene for a comedy drama :) My aging aunt simply requests a chair at a corner when attending a memorial.

Btw, I found Suzsid's observation very interesting. I guess I never really thought about that, but when people REALLY relax, they stretch their legs and arms outward and not cross them.

I think people cross arms and legs when they want to relax a little but cannot relax fully (such as when eating), or when they are concentrating (such as listening/discussing a problem over the phone).

Oh, and another situation! I found myself crossing my arms and legs just now as I said to my son, "You're going to bed at what time did you say?" I was angry :)
by Uco rate this post as useful

...much to do about nothing 2005/4/5 01:42
who cares whether my legs are cross in a formal or informal way.
I can "behave" in respectful manner in public and still be an a--hole.
Japan and other "civilized" society spent waaaay too much time on symbolic gestures than actually interacting with each other in an honest and comfortable manner.
The Yakuzas(just one example) i m sure are well behaved gentleman in when they are having tea. then later that night when their shipman of illegal females from Colombia dont show up, suddenly a person's head is off...literally.
The POINT is let's focus more on the action(sometimes lack of)of the individual towards us. But one individual at a time.
by ffourmoi rate this post as useful

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