Everyone knows there are some gestures that are essentially cultural idioms; they’ve got regionally, culturally, or ethnically specific meanings that might be VERY DIFFERENT than what you’re used to.

  • Palms out in Greece: In Greece, putting the palm of your hand (or worse, the palms of both hands) towards someone is akin to raising your middle finger in North America.
  • Hands on hips in South America:  In Mexico, South, and Central America, putting your hands on your hips is a sign of hostility.
  • Touching someone’s head in Thailand: In Thai culture, the head is sacred, and touching it defiles it.  The feet, conversely, are unclean, and should not be put on furniture, or, god forbid, someone’s head.
  • Left hands in the third world: Don’t touch anything or anybody with your left hand in the third world; it’s the “wiping” hand.
  • Prolonged eye contact in Asia: Looking someone in the eye in many parts of Asia is considered disrespectful.  Staring at someone, particularly if they are poor, in India is considered humiliating.  For them, not for you.
  • The “V” sign in British colonies: When giving a “two fingers” peace sign, make sure it’s palm out; otherwise it means something considerably more vulgar.
  • Thumbs up in Islamic countries: This is often seen as rude, particularly in Iran.
  • Head gestures in various places: In India, the nod up and down means no and the shaking head from side to side means no.  In Finland, a toss of your head means “come here.” 

Posted by | Comments (2)  | December 22, 2008
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

2 Responses to “Gestures”

  1. Eva Says:

    Aaaaargh. The left hand thing gets me every time. If I had the power, I would somehow teach the whole world to understand that some people are left-handed, and no disrespect is meant, it’s just how we’re wired!! 😛

    And it’s not as simple as just not using our left hands — all you righties, try to avoid using your right hand (not even for a day, just for 20 minutes even) and see how you fare…

  2. dailygrind Says:

    I don’t think British colonies exist anymore. As a travel blogger you might want to freshen up on the lingo.