As a traveler globetrotting around the world, one of the biggest challenges you may face is the task of communicating effectively while abroad. Language is, of course, the first hurdle in this task.
However, another important aspect of communicating with locals and blending in is nonverbal cues. Believe it or not, these vary greatly across countries and cultures. Nonverbal cues include things like table manners, bathroom etiquette, and even hand gestures.
Gestures can vary depending on the part of the world. Something as simple as a greeting has so many different forms. From a formal handshake, or a casual wave, to a ‘Namaste’ or a bow, every culture has distinct norms for what is essentially a ‘Hello.’
Barring some commonalities, gestures are very different from sign language, so it is imperative to not mix the two.
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Significance of Gestures
Gestures are more deeply tied into cultures and social interactions than you may realize. We encounter them in our day-to-day lives in the form of art, games, and sports.
Gestures can be seen in contemporary culture, as well as be traced back to various examples in history. These include the Bellamy Salute used in conjunction with the American Pledge of Allegiance, the usage of various mudras for depictions in Hinduism, a crossed finger for good luck or to nullify a promise, and the South Korean finger heart.
Let us tell you how some hand gestures that may seem perfectly normal where you come from might have opposite connotations in another part of the world.
9 Hand Gestures That Are Considered Rude Around the World
1. Pointing With Your Index Fingers
This is a gesture considered rude across almost all parts of the world. In a lot of cultures, pointing at someone with the index finger is akin to making them an object of unnecessary scrutiny, or even badmouthing them.
It also signifies blaming someone. This particular implication of the gesture is very prevalent in some cultures, so much so that there are proverbs based around it. A Hindi proverb discourages people from pointing the index finger at someone, because it results in the pointer’s own three fingers being pointed back at themselves.
2. A-OK Sign
Most of the West relates this sign with the expression “I’m OK.” However, down in Latin America as well as parts of the Middle East, Germany, and North Africa, this gesture has more negative connotations.
3. Southpaw Handshakes
Prevalent in the Indian subcontinent, as well as in Arab culture, the left hand is considered impure. Attempting to use your left hand, whether it be for shaking hands or accepting/giving money is generally frowned upon.
Though not something the locals of these regions expect from foreigners, it would still land you in their good books to primarily use your right hand.
4. Beckoning Gesture
This is a gesture that many of us tend to use. But, curb your impulse to use it if you’re in the Philippines.
This is the gesture they use to summon dogs. So, using it with a human would mean you’re calling said human a dog. Which would be rude in any country.
5. Five Fathers
Take the index finger of your right hand and point it at the grouped fingertips of your left hand. But, do make sure you aren’t in the Middle East or the Caribbean while trying this out.
The gesture in question, in these regions, literally means telling someone they have five fathers, or calling someone’s mother promiscuous.
6. Pointing At the Moon
This is another strange one on the list, but with a backstory that would make sense.
If you were in Taiwan on a beautiful full moonlit night, and you point your finger at the moon to marvel at its beauty, this can be seen as offensive. The gesture and its significance are part of the local culture and folklore.
The story goes that if you point at the moon, you offend the moon Goddess. In her wrath, she is said to punish you by cutting off your ears. So, pretty moon or not, do your best to keep your hands at your sides.
With origins tracing back to the Byzantine Empire, this gesture is something you should refrain from, especially in Greece.
The open palms with all your five fingers spread is what’s called a Moutza, and it is seen as a sign of intense displeasure or even a threat. It is very offensive in the Middle East, Greece, and Mexico.
8. Peace Signs
9. The Cutis
A very unheard-of gesture with an elaborate meaning, the cutis finds its origins in the Indian subcontinent.
Fold your palms into a fist, flick your thumb from your front teeth or bite it, and voila, that’s the cutis. It holds the same meaning as the middle finger, except it isn’t just directed at the person you aim the gesture at, but their entire family!
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Tips to Remember
Before you start worrying that gesturing with your hands the wrong way will land you in a heap of trouble, fear not. People around the world tend to be patient and understanding for the most part. If you accidentally gesture in an offensive way, most locals will tend to give you the benefit of the doubt, especially as a tourist. If you continue making an inappropriate gesture, you may be politely corrected. Still, it is best to remember that different actions can have different connotations depending on where you are. A little research and preparation can prevent awkward situations.
Another important part of your travel preparation should be a contingency for if something unexpected happens, like an illness, injury, travel delay, or trip cancellation. Veteran travelers recommend investing in travel medical insurance or travel insurance prior to your trip. An insurance plan specifically tailored to your international trip can provide valuable financial coverage in case of a medical or travel issue. The money it could save you may prevent you from making any other regrettable hand gestures.
Now that you’re more informed about hand gestures across the world, we hope you blend in and have an enjoyable time no matter where you go.
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