When people are too shy to talk or when they don’t know what to say to the other, they often turn to using gestures to answer the person they’re talking to. Sometimes this is enough to end a conversation or that an agreement has been made, but these gestures could mean something else to people who have a different culture than your own. Here are some gestures that you shouldn’t use abroad.
The V Sign
The v sign which is made by the index finger and middle finger facing outward to form the letter V is often used as a symbol for peace and victory. Later on, it has been adopted as a gesture that is commonly used in photographs especially in Japan, Mainland China, South Korea and Taiwan. The insulting version of this gesture is when the palm is facing inward, it is known as “the finger” or “the forks” in Australia. This gesture is often used to signify defiance, contempt, and derision. This has been an insulting gesture in England, later on by the rest of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and Pakistan.
The “OK” sign is often used to mean “good” or “all is well” but in some countries like Greece, Spain and Brazil, this gesture is equivalent to calling someone an a**hole. In some Middle Eastern Countries this gesture signifies the evil eye and it is considered as an insult towards gay people when used in Turkey.
This hand gesture if often used by rockers all over the world, but this gesture has another meaning when you’re in Greece, Italy, and Spain. When you’re traveling to those three countries, make sure that you will not do this gesture as this would mean that your wife is being unfaithful to you.
This hand gesture is often used to show approval(extended upward) or disapproval(extended downward). The “thumbs up” has also become a metaphor in English. For example, “the judges gave the contestant a thumbs up.” meaning that the judges liked the performance of the contestant. However, you should be careful when using this gesture in Australia or the Middle East as it could mean “up your” or “sit on this.”
Shaking/Nodding the head
In most parts of the world, shaking the head from side to side means “no” and nodding means “yes”, but these gestures and their meaning are reversed in Bulgaria and Greece. Nodding your head means “no” and shaking your head mean “yes”. To avoid confusing the person you are talking to just verbally answer yes or no.
3 Fingers and Raised arm salute
This gesture was popularized when the Hunger Games movie was released. In 2014, the salute became the unofficial symbol of opposition to the military coup in Thailand on May 22 (which is also true in the succeeding movies of the Hunger Games trilogy, where the rebels used this sign to show their defiance of the capitol). The junta declared this gesture to be illegal. So if you are a fan of the movie and you used this in Thailand, the odds may not be in your favor.
There are times when you tend to rely on your gestures to answer some questions or to reply to the people you are talking to, often not considering if the culture you have is the same with theirs, especially when you travel abroad. Sometimes the gestures you use may be ignored even if it insulted the person, but one thing that you should know as a traveler, is that you have to be aware of the culture and traditions of the people who live in the place that you’re going to visit. It may not be relevant all the time, but showing them that you know something about their culture and traditions might help you get along well with them.