8 Common Gestures That Can Cause Offense Abroad

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In pretty much every country around the world, there are certain hand gestures that are seen as offensive.

The worst part is, gestures that are commonplace (and not seen as offensive) in America can be extremely offensive in other countries, so unless you know what these are, you could easily (albeit unintentionally) offend a local without even realising it.

Here are eight of the most common American/western gestures that can land you in hot water if used in certain foreign countries:

1. Japan – The ‘Come Hither’ Gesture

Beckoning someone with your index finger in Japan (and in many Asian countries) does not mean “come over here” (like it does in the western world). Instead, it is an extremely offensive gesture (E.g. in Singapore it is said to “symbolize death”).

So how do you tell someone to “come here!” in Japan? Wave with your entire palm and fingers out in an exaggerated, almost Mexican Wave-like manner.

2. Greece – Showing Your Palms

Using the “Stop” gesture (also known as the “Talk to the hand!” gesture) can get you in a lot of trouble in Greece, as displaying your palm to someone in this way is a huge insult.

The gesture is thought to date back to Byzantine times, when people would smear excrement on the faces of prisoners with their palms.

Italian flag

3. Italy – Scratching Your Chin

Scratching (or rubbing) your chin in Italy is the equivalent of sticking up your middle finding in America. Naturally, there will be times when your chin is itchy (especially if you’ve been around mosquitoes), so it’s important to think about which areas you’re scratching when in Italy!

4. The Middle East – Giving a Thumbs Up

In America, giving someone a big thumbs up accompanied by a sincere smile is the perfect way to tell someone “Great work!”

However, in many Middle Eastern countries (such as Iran), giving someone the thumbs up is the equivalent of telling them to “stick it where the sun don’t shine”.

Take special care to avoid using this gesture when bargaining with shopkeepers, as doing so will likely result in them refusing to do business with you.

5. Australia – The ‘Peace’ Sign

The ‘peace’ sign (or the ‘V for Victory’ sign that Winston Churchill used during WWII) that is made by facing your palm outwards and raising your middle and index finger, is offensive in Australia, and is another way of telling someone “up yours!”

6. France – The ‘OK’ Sign

Making a circle with your index finger and thumb and having your remaining three fingers stretched out is a non-verbal way of saying “OK” in most countries around the world.

In France, however, the gesture means “worthless” or “zero”, making it naturally offensive.

Interestingly, in Japan this gesture means “Money”, whereas in Turkey it is a way of telling someone they’re a homosexual.

7. Italy – Making the ‘Bull Horns’

Our second offering from Italy. Raising your index and pinky fingers in the USA simply means “Rock on!” and is also used to cheer on certain bull-related sports teams (such as The Longhorns).

In Italy, making this gesture towards a man is indicating that his wife is being unfaithful. Making it behind his back (without him seeing) is doubly offensive, as this indicates that he is unaware of his wife’s unfaithful behaviour.

8. Vietnam – Crossing Your Fingers

Crossing your middle and index fingers typically means that you’re hoping/praying for good luck (after all, it’s the logo of the National Lottery in the UK).

In Vietnam, this gesture can get you in trouble, as the Vietnamese consider crossed fingers to resemble female genitalia.


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