As we mentioned in our Non-verbal communication article, communication is as much about nonverbal cues as it is about talking. According to Professor Mehrabian "communication is only 7% verbal”. That means that the 93% of our communication (non-verbal) works unconsciously! So, this is where it becomes important to pay attention to our hands, as this just might save us a world of pain and embarrassment!
At this point, you hopefully already know that there is no universal sign language (click to read the article). Different sign languages are used in different countries or regions. The same rules apply for hand gestures. Not all hand gestures mean the same thing in every country.
In some places, gestures that are being used on a daily basis, might mean something highly offensive in a foreign land.
Sometimes rude/offensive hand gestures are rather specific and easy to avoid, others are just as easy to miss, so we had better prepare and remember the following hand gestures in order to avoid any problems abroad:
1. CROSSED FINGERS. In Vietnam, is it better not to cross your fingers to wish for luck. This is considered to resemble the female genitals, hence it is considered extremely insulting if aimed at another person.
2. THE DOG CALL. If you are beckoning someone over this way, know that in Philippines you're essentially saying that they're no better than a dog. This gesture could land you in prison!
3. A-OK GESTURE. The simple hand signal to convey agreement and compliance, in some countries, such as Turkey or Brazil, it means that you are calling someone an a**hole and also using a gesture which is an insult towards gay people.
4. THE MOUTZA. Be careful if you find yourself in Greece and you are trying to order 5 of something with your open palm extended toward the receiver. This is a serious sign of displeasure also used in Mexico, the Middle East, and Africa.
5. THE V-SIGN WITH PALM FACING INWARD. In the UK and some of the other commonwealth countries showing your fingernails is like giving someone the middle finger.
6. THE HORNS / THE CORNA. Usually known as the symbol for “rock on,” this is a rude hand gesture in some countries such as Portugal, Brazil, France, Italy, Greece or Spain. This is considered a suggestive gesture made to a man to imply that his wife is cheating on him and signifies a bull’s horns.
7. THE CUTIS. Flicking your thumb from the back of your upper front teeth toward someone is seriously nasty in India and Pakistan. It does not only say "F-you", it meant for their whole family.
8. THE FIVE FEATHERS. By pointing your index finger into the five fingers on your other hand, you are implying that the other person's mother is promiscuous. It's considered a rude hand gesture in Arabic countries and some Caribbean nations.
9. HANDS IN YOUR POCKET. And last, but not least, if you think that you could avoid any rude hand gesture by keeping your hands in your pocket, you are out of luck. In many countries, including UK, Germany or Japan, this gesture is a sign of rudeness especially when talking to someone.
I am sorry that I haven't been able to find any more information to ensure that you don’t insult or find yourself in trouble with the locals when travelling... Hopefully we will be able to go abroad soon, so please do just check local information.
However, if you do manage to inadvertently upset or offend anyone, just smile and try to politely explain yourself. In most of the countries mentioned, these considered "rude hand gestures" won't mean anything out of context ☺ Good luck!