Gestures that mean different things

Written by jessica hart
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  • Introduction

    Gestures that mean different things

    Nonverbal communication, using your hands or assuming certain types of body language at specific times, can convey different meanings, especially in various cultures. A gesture you might consider offensive now might actually be a compliment in another country. By the same token, your attempts at giving someone a compliment might cause serious offence. Since the world is a blend of many diverse cultures, it is important to always be aware of the context in which various basic gestures can be used.

    Gestures and body language can have a different meaning in every culture. (Kim Carson/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

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    Using Your Fingers

    Pointing using your fingers is considered rude in many countries. If you need to draw attention to something specific, perhaps while asking for directions, do it with your palm open. Another offensive signal is to summon someone with any of your fingers. In places like the Philippines, doing so is considered a demeaning gesture and can result in your arrest. Another signal, the thumbs-up signal, usually means something positive and encouraging in America. However, in places like the Middle East, it is considered an insult. In Iran, it means no, instead of yes. In places like Russia, Italy, Greece and West Africa, a thumbs-up is the equivalent of giving the middle finger in the United States.

    In some countries, a thumbs-up means no. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

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    Watching Your Manners

    When eating, most people consider slurping your food to be a sign of rudeness. However in places like Japan, it is a way of telling your host that the meal is delicious. Be careful which hand you use to eat and gesture with when you speak. Left hands, especially in Muslim countries, are considered unclean. You must shake using your right hand or wrist even if your left hand is cleaner. You should also be careful about the types of compliments you pay your host when visiting a home. Compliments like "your house is beautiful" are OK, but if you compliment specific things like chairs and decorations, especially in places like Senegal and Jordan, your host will thinking you're doing so because you want that item. It will be considered rude then for him not to offer it to you.

    In some countries, you must shake with your right hand even when it is dirty. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

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    Using Your Hands

    When you hold your hand up, palm facing outward like a stop sign, you're asking someone to stop or wait in England and America. However in Asia, you are requesting permission to join a conversation. Similarly, a person with her hands on her hips is considered confident in America but that type of body language may be construed as arrogant in Asia. As for hand holding, grown adults holding hands in America usually indicates that they are in a romantic relationship. In places such as India and Africa, however, it is not uncommon to see any two people holding hands.

    Hands on your hips might be seen as arrogance, not confidence, in Asia. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

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    Making Signals

    Bending your forefinger and thumb to form a round "O" is a way of saying "OK" when someone asks you a question while your mouth is full or when you're scuba diving. In Europe and Brazil though, as well as in some Middle Eastern countries, it may mean "zero" or be construed as something even more offensive. Another gesture, holding up your forefinger and middle finger to form a "V," often means "victory" if the inside of your palm is facing away from you. If your knuckles face your target, however, this is an insult in places like Britain and Australia.

    The "A-OK" sign means "zero" in Europe. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

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