As one who is frequently misunderstood, even by those who speak the English language, I was alarmed to find that there were a host of non-verbal ways to cause offense without ever intending to. I discovered this post on the www.expatinfodesk.com, and am reposting it for your cultural sensitivity training and enlightenment. I will now be keeping my hands in my pockets for the foreseeable future – who knew the ScottEVest was a diplomatic relations tool..

It’s not just what you say that you need to mindful of, here’s 6 innocent gestures that could actually land you in big trouble.

1. The Okay Sign

Picture of the okay signMany westerners use their thumb and forefinger to form a circle, and use this gesture to signal that they are feeling fine or are happy with a situation. However, if you’re tempted to do this when living in countries like Greece, Turkey, Brazil or the Middle East, don’t! In many areas of the world this gesture is viewed as highly vulgar and is often used to indicate that you are calling someone homosexual.


2. Pointing

Beware of protruding fingers. In many areas of the world pointing something out with your finger is considered incredibly vulgar and it is best to avoid doing this altogether wherever you are. If you wish to highlight something, indicate it with an open palm. Never be tempted to summon someone to you by using an outstretched finger it is so offensive in the Philippines that it is punishable by arrest.


3. Thumbs up

Picture of thumbs upIn many areas of the world a thumbs up signal is interpreted as meaning “Okay” or “I agree.” However, in Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, South America, the Middle East and parts of Italy and Greece it is an obscene insult meaning “sit on it” which is their equivalent to holding a middle finger up.


4. The V Sign

In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand an inverted peace sign, i.e. with your palm facing towards you is an offensive gesture that has a similar meaning to a raised middle finger.

It is believed to have its origins in the battle of Agincourt (1415) when the English fought the French with longbows. The French apparently threatened to cut off the arrowing-shooting fingers of any English solders they caught and the English retaliated by waving their two fingers in the air at the French in a taunting gesture.


5. Raising your hands with your palms facing out

Picture of the moutza

In Greece, showing five spread fingers with the palm facing out is offensive. This is called moutza and it dates back to Byzantine times when prisoners were paraded through the town with their faces covered in charcoal or excrement. The dark material was applied to their faces with their own palms. Today, it is one of the most common gestures of insult among Greeks.

It’s not just Greece where this gesture should be avoided. In Pakistan, showing someone the palm of your hand represents a curse, in the Persian Gulf it is an insult mainly used by women and in Mexico showing someone your palm while repeatedly moving it towards the receiver means that you are warning them that you may take action they won’t like.


6. Using Your Left Hand to eat or shake hands

Avoid using your left hand to eat or shake hands in Hindu and Muslim countries. This hand is often used by people to wipe themselves clean after using the bathroom, so it is considered to be soiled. To hand someone something using that hand is highly offensive.

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One Response to Cultural sensitivity and the hand gesture..

  1. Sandy says:

    I’m just staying home, where a finger is a finger. I can’t stop doing any of those things! LOL

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