5 Hand Gestures That Mean Something Different Abroad

Body language is a big part of the way we communicate and many times such second nature that we don’t even realize we are using them. However, if you are planning to move abroad or travel for business, it’s important to be mindful of the fact that many hand gestures may not mean the same thing overseas. Avoid embarrassing yourself or insulting someone else by studying up on these hand gestures which have completely different meanings abroad:

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What you think it means: “Come here.” In most western countries it’s acceptable to signal to someone to come to you by curling your index finger.

What it means in Asia: In many countries in Asia signaling to someone by curling your index finger is extremely insulting. In some nations like the Philippines and Taiwan it is a gesture used to call a dog, never a human being! Play it safe and signal with your hand palm down and curling all your fingers.

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What you think it means: “I’m just handing you this without thinking about which hand I’m doing it with.” There are no rules for most westerners regarding which hand they should or shouldn’t use when handing something to someone.

What it means in Asia, Africa, & the Middle East: In many countries, and especially those considered to be Muslim, your left hand is reserved for cleaning your…er…nether regions. So if you hand something to someone using your left hand you’re essentially using your ‘poopy hand.’ Wince. Just stick with the right hand, especially when you’re not sure.

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What you think it means: “Rock on!” or (if you’re American) “Go Longhorns! Take down Texas A&M!”

What it means in Italy, Spain, and South America: Sadly, rocking out with your hook ‘em horns isn’t a thing in these countries. If you make this gesture at a man you may just end up getting punched. Its meaning is taken to imply that the man’s wife is cheating on him and he’s too dense to realize it. Not cool!

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What you think it means: “Everything is A-Okay!” Making a circle with your thumb and index finger in North America is a positive hand gesture which means all is well.

What it means in Greece, Turkey, & France: In Greece & Turkey making the A-Okay signal is considered highly discourteous and people will think that you’re implying something about their sexuality. In France, on the other hand, this gesture means “zero,” and if you use it you could be communicating that you think someone or something is worthless!

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What you think it means: “I hope everything turns out well!” Crossing your index finger around your middle finger is a gesture used in the west to indicate you are hoping for good luck.

What it means in Vietnam: In Vietnamese culture, this hand gesture is said to resemble a lady’s private parts. So basically if you make this signal at someone you are calling them a really vulgar word (I’ll give you a hint, it starts with ‘c’). Yeah…maybe it’s just best to keep your hands in your pockets and not use them at all, right?

Phew! It probably seems to you at this point that avoiding insulting people while abroad is practically impossible! Don’t worry, as long as you remember not to use these 5 hand gestures overseas, you should be fine. Another great way to avoid a big faux pas is by studying the language of your target country. Locals love it when you respect their culture enough to try to communicate in their mother tongue, so help your language skills to grow by taking free online language tests and signing up for excellent language classes.  With your cultural and language know-how you’ll be sure to make a great impression wherever you go!