Gestures and Phrases


Written by Kathleen Malone. Media by Kelsey Middleton.

Many gestures throughout the world have to potential to mean different things, so it can be confusing at times to make sure that you aren’t offending anyone. These gestures could be switched around, and even though they are also very important, they could easily turn a good day into a bad day. From these three articles, “Keep Your Fingers to Yourself!”, “What Hand Gestures Mean In Different Countries“, and “25 American Customs that are Considered Offensive in Other Countries,” come some very interesting gestures and phrases that we should be aware of.

Victory. Photo by Kelsey Middleton.

1. V for victory – More commonly known as the peace sign here in the States, other countries take that symbol, when you make it with your palm facing inward, is almost the equivalent of flipping someone the bird in Australia and the UK.

2. Pointing with your index finger – Here, this just means that we’re showing someone something, or pointing to something that we want. It’s pretty harmless. Some cultures, however, take it as being impolite, while in others pointing your index finger is only done at inanimate objects.

3. The open hand – This gesture could be used as a wave, a high-five, to shake someone’s hand, or just to help someone up. In other countries, it could be taken as the person not wanting anything more to do with you, or showing that you aren’t listening to what they have to say anymore.

4. Thumbs up – This gesture is usually meant as an “a-ok” or “good to go”, but in the Middle East, it is an insult and very offensive.

5. Come here – This is usually used for calling someone to come closer to you, and it’s not a very offensive gesture to Americans, but in other countries, the gesture was used to beckon dogs closer, and if you use that gesture you could even be arrested.

Hand Gesture. Photo by Kelsey Middleton.

6. The horn fingers – This is often used in either rock concerts or as the signal of the University of Texas at Austin, but in Latin countries, you show that gesture to people to tell them that they’re being cheated on.

7. Looking at your watch – We think of it as only making sure that we aren’t late for something, or just checking the time. Sometimes we may do this in conversations, though more than likely now we’d be checking our smartphones. In other countries, doing this means that you have no time for the person or people that you’re talking to, when conversations should be able to take as much time as they need.

8. Being fashionably late – Usually, we set a time for when appointments or dates should happen, and sometimes we come a little late to them. In Germany, if you arrive late to an event, it will make others believe that the time you use is more important than theirs.

The final gestures and phrases were provided by Richard Huston, who is familiar with what some of the offensive gestures and phrases could be, after his experiences with Latin American culture.

9. Greetings – In most Latin American cultures, it’s customary to greet men differently than women.  In most Latin American countries, men shake hands when they meet.  Someone new coming into the group shakes hands with everyone else present.  In Paraguay, you shake hands to say hello, and shake hands again to say good-bye.  But rather than shaking hands with women, men “air kiss” them on the cheek.  The challenge is remembering in which country you should kiss the left or right cheek, or both.

10. Communication – Many of these phrases and gestures that we commonly use here in the States are very offensive to others in other countries, but Dr. Huston made a very good point about forms of communication. “It is important to pay attention to these elements of communication because language is not the only way to communicate. Gestures and other forms of non-verbal communication are an equally important (sometimes more important when two people don’t speak the same language) means of communicating.”

Communication is important, and it is something that we do every single day of our lives, be it verbal or non-verbal.


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