18 Gestures That Can Cause Offense Around the World | ShermansTravel (2023)

By Sophie Forbes for Yahoo! Travel

One of the main problems travelers face is communicating with the locals. Even if you never leave home without your trusty phrase book, communication is as much about nonverbal cues as it is about talking. In fact, people rely more heavily on hand gestures and body language when in situations where they are unable to verbally interact with someone. But did you know that not all hand gestures mean the same thing in every country? In some places, gestures that we use on a daily basis in the U.S. to portray positive emotion or agreement, for example, might mean something highly offensive in a foreign land.

Take the OK sign — the simple hand signal where you put your thumb and first finger together to create a circular shape. In the U.S. we use it to convey agreement and compliance. Yet it is seen as offensive in Greece, Spain, and Brazil. In those countries it means that you are calling someone an a**hole. In Turkey, that sign is also an insult toward gay people.

(Video) Did you know some common hand gestures are offensive in other countries?
18 Gestures That Can Cause Offense Around the World | ShermansTravel (1)

So aside from keeping your hands firmly in your pockets while you are traveling, what can you do to ensure that you don’t insult the locals or end up in a bar brawl? The last time I checked, there was no section in any of my phrasebooks for hand gestures.

1. The chin flick.Brushing the back of your hand underneath your chin in a flicking motion means “get lost” in Belgium, northern Italy, and Tunisia. In France, this gesture is known as la barbe(”the beard”) and is the hand-sign equivalent of macho grandstanding.

2. The fig. A clenched fist with your thumb between your first and second fingers means “screw you” (to put it mildly) in Turkey, Russia, and Indonesia. And, in some countries it symbolizes lady parts.

(Video) Offensive Hand Gestures From Around The World ✅

3. Forearm jerk.This is the action of punching your fist into your elbow joint while raising the other fist up in front of you. It will not get you a positive reaction in most parts of southern Europe or Brazil, and it’s used commonly by soccer fans wanting to send an offensive message to the fans of the opposing team.

18 Gestures That Can Cause Offense Around the World | ShermansTravel (2)

4. The moutza.In Greece, Mexico, the Middle East, and Africa, the action of raising your open hand, palm out, with spread fingers in front of someone is a serious sign of displeasure. Possibly one of the oldest hand gestures still in use, it dates all the way back to ancient Byzantium, when criminals were chained to donkeys and paraded through the streets, where locals would rub their own feces onto the prisoner.

5. The cutis.Flicking your thumb from the back of your upper front teeth toward someone is seriously nasty in India and Pakistan and simply means “f*** you.” Very nice. This sign will likely get you ejected from any place of business and not welcomed back.

6. Five fathers.Arab and Caribbean countries see the action of pointing your right index finger and the grouped finger tips of your left hand as a way of saying, “you have five fathers.” Or, in harsher terms, “your mother is promiscuous."

7. Head shake. Most people assume that nodding your head is the universal sign for “yes” and shaking your head is the sign for “no.” But in Greece and Bulgaria, these actions are reversed. This can lead to some serious confusion if you are being hit on or trying to order food off a menu.

(Video) 18 Most Powerful Hand Gestures Used By the Leaders Around The World

18 Gestures That Can Cause Offense Around the World | ShermansTravel (3)

8. Crossing your fingers. In Vietnam, crossing your fingers, as we would in the U.S. to wish for luck, depicts a woman’s genitalia and is considered extremely insulting if aimed at another person. It is the hand-sign alternative of calling someone the c-word.

9. Horns. The placement of your fingers to show horns, usually known as the symbol for “rock on,” has a different meaning in Spain, Greece, and Italy — where it is called the “corna” and is considered a suggestive gesture made to a man to imply that his wife is cheating on him. It dates back more than 2,500 years and signifies a bull’s horns.

10. Come on over. In the Philippines, using your hand to make a “come here” gesture is one of the most offensive things you can do. In fact, this gesture is deemed so bad that you can actually get arrested for using it. We promise you that the last place you want to end up on your vacation is inside a Philippine prison.

11. Crossed arms.Crossing your arms in front of you is considered a huge sign of arrogance in Finland. Standing with this posture in a bar is likely to get you into a fight.

12. Fist shakes. In Austria, shaking two fists in front of you is a way of wishing someone good luck.

(Video) Why Is the V-Sign ONLY Offensive in Certain Countries | Tales From the Bottle

13. Slapping your fist. In France, slapping the palm of your hand over your other fist is seen as an aggressive gesture that suggests you want to beat up the person it’s aimed at. It is similar to telling someone to step outside.

18 Gestures That Can Cause Offense Around the World | ShermansTravel (4)

14. Hand shakes. In Russia, shaking hands, or doing pretty much anything else, over a threshold is considered extremely unlucky.

15. Three-fingered salute. In Thailand, the raised arm with three fingers extended (like the gesture used in The Hunger Games) was outlawed after it became a symbol of opposition to the country’s military coup in 2012. How very original.

16. Feet gestures. In India, one of the worst things you can do socially is to show a person the soles of your feet or use your feet to point to or touch things. Feet are seen as unclean and the lowest point of the body. Resist the urge to give yourself a pedicure in public, or you might be faced with some angry locals.

18 Gestures That Can Cause Offense Around the World | ShermansTravel (5)

17.Peace Sign With Palm Facing Inward.Some countries, including England, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa, consider an outward-facing V-sign (AKA a peace sign) as giving someone the middle finger. So, next time you're traveling to one of these countries and you are trying to order two of something, make sure that your palm is facing outward.

(Video) What Do These Hand Signs Mean In Other Countries?


What gestures are offensive in other countries? ›

5 American Behaviors Considered Rude in Other Parts of the World
  • Thumbs-Up. While a thumbs-up in the United States means “good job,” in the Middle East, Latin America, and Western Africa, a thumbs-up is equivalent to the middle finger in the US.
  • One Hand In Your Pocket. ...
  • Refusing Food. ...
  • Personal Space. ...
  • Opening Gifts Quickly.

Can you give me an example of gestures? ›

#2: Gestures

Waving to a friend, pointing to a restaurant menu item, and indicating how many apples you want by holding up three fingers are all examples of gestural non-verbal communication.

What gestures are considered rude in France? ›

Slapping your fist.

In France, slapping the palm of your hand over your other fist is seen as an aggressive gesture that suggests you want to beat up the person it's aimed at.

What hand gestures are offensive in Mexico? ›

The following may be considered offensive:

Beckoning a person with the palm and fingers pointed up is considered rude. Instead, hold your hand in front of you and keep your palm facing down. Then curl your fingers back towards your body. The “okay” gesture with the thumb and index finger is considered vulgar.

What does 🤟 mean? ›

What does 🤟 I Love You Gesture emoji mean? A universal emoji! Or … is it? The love-you gesture or I love you hand sign emoji is the American Sign Language gesture for “I love you,” showing a hand with a raised index finger and pinky (little) finger and an extended thumb. It comes in a range of skin tones.

What is the difference between 🤘 and 🤟? ›

What is the difference between 🤘 and 🤟? 🤘 = You Rock! or Rock On! 🤟 = Love You! Enter the Latest RockMerch Sweepstakes!

What are the 5 types of gesture? ›

While there is much debate there are some settled classifications of gesture, including deictic gestures, motor gestures, symbolic gestures (emblems), iconic gestures and metaphoric gestures.

What is the most common gesture? ›

Thumbs up is perhaps the most common of hand gestures and one that has been used for thousands of years. The signal for approval or agreement is commonly found European and American cultures as a sign of approval or that things are going according to plan.

What are the 4 types of gestures? ›

McNeill (1992) proposes a general classification of four types of hand gestures: beat, deictic, iconic and metaphoric.

Is it rude to smile in France? ›

It's not a sign of unfriendliness but simply a different way of conducting interactions. French people aren't unhappy or rude, they simply smile a little bit less than Americans tend to expect. In fact, Americans value smiles a lot more than many cultures.

Do the French like to flirt? ›

4 – Flirting is an Artform in France

It's in our genes and it's socially accepted in France. A Frenchwoman is expected to play her feminine side, and be “admired” for her beauty and wit among other qualities. Frenchmen like to flirt as well, even if they know very well there is no hope of it leading anywhere.

What does pointing the middle finger mean? ›

Giving someone the middle finger is an offensive gesture in which a person flips up their middle finger in a fist to show contempt or defiance.

What is considered disrespectful in Mexican culture? ›

Mexicans often "hold" a gesture (a handshake, a squeeze of the arm, a hug) longer than Americans and Canadians do. Don't stand with your hands on your hips; this signifies anger. It is considered rude to stand around with your hands in your pockets.

What does touching your elbow mean in Mexico? ›

Mexico. Stingy/cheap person – Tapping your elbow with the palm of your hand is a way of signalling that someone is cheap or stingy in Mexico.

What does 😳 mean from a girl? ›

🔤 Meaning. 😳 Flushed Face depicts a smiley with wide eyes and red cheeks, as if blushing with embarrassment, shame, or shyness. It may also convey a wide range of other feelings to varying degrees of intensity, including surprise, disbelief, amazement, excitement, and affection.

What does 👀 mean from a girl? ›

It mostly serves to draw attention to something the user wants to highlight, especially in situations that involve drama and interpersonal tension. It can also be an emoji representation of shifty eyes or the action of side-eyeing. This emoji sometimes appears when someone finds a person attractive.

What does 🙄 mean from a girl? ›

Emoji Meaning

As with the gesture of an eye-roll, commonly conveys moderate disdain, disapproval, frustration, or boredom. Tone varies, including playful, sassy, resentful, and sarcastic, as if saying Yeah, whatever.

What is the difference between thinking of and thinking about? ›

So remember, “think on” or “think about” is when you're considering something and taking time to think it through. “Think of” is used when recalling something from memory.

What is the difference between OR and in math? ›

In probability, there's a very important distinction between the words and and or. And means that the outcome has to satisfy both conditions at the same time. Or means that the outcome has to satisfy one condition, or the other condition, or both at the same time.

What are three common gestures? ›

Gestures. Deliberate movements and signals are an important way to communicate meaning without words.4 Common gestures include waving, pointing, and giving a "thumbs up" sign. Other gestures are arbitrary and related to culture.

What are the types of gesture? ›

What are the types of gestures? While Dr. Ekman's research largely focused on nonverbal communication and, specifically, how facial expressions relay emotional experiences, he also identified three types of gestures: illustrators, manipulators, and emblems.

What are simple gestures? ›

A Simple Gesture Is a Simple Idea

Donors may choose to add one non-perishable food item every week to the bag or fill it in one shopping trip. It's a program for everyone to participate in! Every month or two, depending on which program a donor signs up for, donors place the filled bag outside their front door.

What is the best example of gesture? ›

For example, a wave of the hand is a common gesture used to say hello to someone. In this sense, gesture is also commonly used as a verb. A gesture can also be an action done for a specific reason, such as to show gratitude, as in Sending him flowers was a nice gesture.

What are some nervous gestures? ›

This list of 12 of the most common signs of nervousness may help you to get an idea of what your cues are.
  • Pacing. Pacing is a very common sign of being nervous. ...
  • Fidgeting. ...
  • Swaying or Rocking. ...
  • Leaning. ...
  • Freezing. ...
  • Cracking Knuckles. ...
  • Crossed Arms. ...
  • Picking at or Biting Nails.
Apr 27, 2020

What is the 3 finger gesture? ›

Protesters have since added symbolism to the gesture, stating that the three fingers stand for the French Revolutionary ideal of liberty, equality, fraternity. The gesture was revived by protesters in the 2020 Thai political crisis.

What are the 2 types of gesture? ›

There are two main classes of gestures which can be produced in isolation and known as conveying social intent: symbolic (or emblematic) and request gestures.

What is a behavioral gesture? ›

Behavioral gestures are what we see every day, like in the grocery store or school: scratching, pointing, waving, sniffing. Write these behavioral gestures on the board under the label 'Behavioral'.

What are cultural gestures? ›

Hand gestures are an integral part of the way we communicate with others. We wave to someone to say hi, give a thumbs up to express our approval, and cross our fingers when we are hoping for good luck. Though some gestures are universal, many are specific to a culture or shared across multiple cultures.

Can you kiss in France? ›

Of Latin origin, the greeting kissing persists in countries where the culture of contact dominates, and this culture is deeply rooted in France. The French still greet each other by touching each other, kissing or shaking hands.

Do people wear black in Paris? ›

Parisians do not all dress alike, but they certainly have a “look”. You can wear any color you want, as long as it's black, black, or black. Beige and red seem to work their way into the Parisian wardrobe, as do many shades of gray, but you should leave that to the pro's.

Is it rude to not say bonjour? ›

Use it and use it often! You'll come across as impolite if you don't say bonjour and that's not the first impression you'll want to make. It's even seen as insulting to not say bonjour in French and then French get the reputation for being rude or snobby… but that's a conversation for another day.

How are French men in bed? ›

The French have an undeniable reputation when it comes to love and sex. They are passionate, enticing and simply irresistible. French people have a way with words and actions that's all about love. And when it comes to displaying their fairness in bed, they are said to be absolute sex gods!

Do French like eye contact? ›

For Parisians eye contact is a personal matter, much like your choice of wine, or infidelity in relationships. As a general rule, you have to avoid looking strangers in the eye; it's slightly offensive.

What is the meaning of 🖕 🍑? ›

What does 🖕 Middle Finger emoji mean? The middle finger emoji represents the physical act of raising one's middle finger—considered an obscene gesture in many cultures—and is used for offensive or humorous effect.

Why do they call it flipping the bird? ›

Although the etymological progression is unclear, it would appear that some time in the 20th century proffering the middle finger came to be seen as a silent way to give a bird. Perhaps because of the gesture involved, the term became "flipping the bird."

What does finger popping mean? ›

Many people can make their fingers pop and snap, often called cracking knuckles. The sound you hear is caused by nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide bubbles moving in the fluid that surrounds your joints. Rest assured that the most common causes of finger-popping are not typically a problem.

What is considered rude in different cultures? ›

Some common American customs that we don't even think twice about doing are considered rude in other countries and cultures. In America, a thumbs up is a common way of showing approval, whereas in the Middle East it's like giving the middle finger. Tipping is expected in the US, but in Japan it's seen as insulting.

What gestures are considered rude in China? ›

Do not touch, hug, lock arms, back slap or make any body contact. Clicking fingers or whistling is considered very rude. Never put your feet on a desk or a chair. Never gesture or pass an object with your feet.

In what countries is it rude to smile? ›

For example, in Russia, people do not smile because it implies that you are at best foolish or at worst, sneaky and manipulative. Even in candid family photos, adults appear with stony, scowling faces. In Japan, smiling is a way to show respect or to hide what you're actually feeling.

Are gestures different in different cultures? ›

We've discussed how gestures, eye contact, greetings, and physical contact can have very different meanings in different countries and cultures so you'll want to learn as much as you can about the country's etiquette, values, and styles of communication before you visit.

What not to do in the United States? ›

What You Should Never Do When Visiting the United States – 2023
  • Over travelling.
  • Drink and Drive.
  • Smoking anywhere.
  • Showing a middle finger.
  • Getting too much into other space.
  • Not tipping.
  • Silence in conversation.
  • Jokes on race and gender.
Jan 1, 2023

What are some rude actions? ›

  • Angry or rude outbursts.
  • Verbal threats.
  • Swearing.
  • Pushing or throwing objects.
  • Bullying.
  • Threat/infliction of physical force or conduct.
Apr 24, 2014

What makes a human rude? ›

What Makes a Person Rude and Disrespectful? People are rude and disrespectful when they act impolite, inconsiderate, or mean towards someone else. There can be many root causes for rudeness, such as insecurity or fear. People are often rude after being on the receiving end of rudeness.

What does 2 fingers mean in China? ›

The tapping of the fingers is a way to say thank you if you are in the middle of a conversation.

What's the middle finger in Japan? ›

The middle finger is a brotherly gesture in Japan. When used in the context of Japanese Sign Language, it's translated as 'ani' to mean older brother. Sometimes the Japanese alternate two middle fingers in the air to mean siblings. In sign language, it's translated as 'kyoudai.

Is it rude to smile in China? ›

If you're from a culture that encourages smiles when greeting strangers or service people, or saying hello to strangers on the street, you may need to adjust this practice if you plan on venturing to China. The Chinese do not smile at strangers, foreign or not.

What country is it rude to look someone in the eye? ›

In some countries, such as Japan and Korea, intense eye contact is often considered as being aggressive and disrespectful.

What cultures avoid eye contact? ›

For example, in African-American cultures, eye contact with authority figures may be viewed as disrespectful. Similarly, among some Asian groups, eye contact between strangers could be considered shameful. In some Latino cultures sustained eye contact may be viewed as disrespectful.

Which culture smiles the least? ›

Residents of former Eastern Bloc countries (Romania, the Czech Republic, and Poland) have the lowest smile scores, as do residents of developing nations like India, Venezuela, and Colombia.


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