19 Simple Gestures That Might Be Highly Misunderstood Abroad

Watch yourself!

1. No playing “Heads Up 7-Up” in Thailand, Iran, Afghanistan, and Greece.

Although a positive hand gesture for Americans, the thumbs up sign can be considered offensive in countries such as Thailand, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. In Thailand, it’s considered to be a childish gesture, very similar to sticking out your tongue. In Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Greece, it is understood as more of an obscene gesture, similar to saying “fuck you.”

2. Careful how you throw out your peace sign in the U.K. and Australia.

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When you make a peace sign with the palm facing inward, it can be taken as “up yours” in parts of the U.K., Australia, and other Commonwealth countries. When in doubt, palm-outward peace signs seem to be suitable wherever you are in the world.

3. Can’t “talk to the hand” in Greece.

Known as the “moutza” in Greece, putting your palm out (much like we would do to signal “stop”) is an extremely insulting gesture. It’s believed to have its roots traced back to the Byzantine Empire, where prisoners were subject to having excrement and dirt smeared across their faces.

4. You could get into bubble trouble in Singapore.

Chewing gum in Singapore is extremely frowned upon. One too many people started discarding their gum inappropriately (i.e. in subway cars and on the streets) and their impeccably clean country just wasn’t having it. Chew with caution, or you might find yourself having to pay off a fat fine.

5. It’s definitely not “OK” in Brazil, Germany, and Turkey.

You may know it as the symbol for “a-OK,” but in countries such as Brazil and Germany this symbol means asshole. Also, in Turkey it’s meant to be a highly insulting gesture towards gay people.

6. Uncross your fingers in Vietnam.

You may be wishing for something special, but in Vietnam crossed fingers mean something slightly more graphic. They are said to resemble a woman’s genitals, and are considered especially heinous when directed at another person specifically.

7. Don’t touch the head in Thailand, Laos, and Sri Lanka.

Touching or patting someone on the head is considered rude in parts of Asia. In countries such as Thailand, Laos, and Sri Lanka it is particularly offensive because as Buddhists, they regard the head as the most sacred part of the body.

8. Forget the forearm jerk exists in France and Brazil.

In France, it’s called the bras d’ honneur. It’s also highly advised against in other parts of Southern Europe and even some Latin countries such as Brazil, where they call it “banana.” This gesture is the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger.

9. Don’t even think about playing “I got your nose” in Turkey.

This seemingly harmless gesture is also the same as throwing up the middle finger in Turkey. So maybe avoid this game with your Turkish friends.

10. Save the dog call for dogs in the Philippines.

In the Phillipines, curling up your index finger so as to signal “come here” is considered to be very offensive. In fact, in most Asian countries this gesture is usually only reserved for dogs.

11. No closing your fist in Pakistan.

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Solidarity, unity, victory? Maybe to some, but in Pakistan a closed fist can be taken as the equivalent of “up yours.”

12. It’s better to have eleven than a dozen roses in Russia.

In Russia, it’s extremely inappropriate to give an even amount of flowers to someone. Bouquets with an even amount of flowers are only reserved for funerals and other serious events because they are traditionally seen as “inviting death.” If you’re gifting flowers to someone just because, you better make sure it’s an odd number.

13. Hold on tight and don’t let go in Fiji.

A quick handshake in Fiji is considered rude and insincere. In fact, it’s not unusual in Fiji for you to remain holding hands with a person for the entirety of your conversation with them, especially when meeting for the first time. So no matter how uncomfortable it may be, don’t pull away.

14. “Yes” means “no” and “no means “yes” in Bulgaria.

In Bulgaria, shaking your head “yes” means “no” and vice versa. So if you ever find yourself in the Eastern European country, make sure to switch it up, or else you’ll confuse a lot of people.

15. Avoid the thresholds in Russia.

Shaking hands over a door threshold is considered to be unlucky in Russia. In fact, having a conversation over a threshold in general is a big cultural faux pas. Russians usually wait for either person to walk in or step out before getting down to any actual business.

16. Don’t stare too hard in Japan.

Direct eye contact can be considered very invasive in countries such as Japan. Eye contact should remain brief or it can be mistaken for aggression and lead to an uncomfortable situation.

17. Don’t “rock” or “roll” in Spain and Italy.

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The “rock and roll” or “bull horns” hand signal loosely translates to “your wife is a whore” in Spain, where it’s known as the “corna”, and Italy. When the gesture is directed at somone, you’re suggesting that they are cuckold.

18. You shall not shell in Chile.

The shell, or “concha,” hand gesture is considered one of the crudest insults in many Latin countries. In Chile, the gesture is reserved for special use with the punchline: “la concha de tu madre” a.k.a. “your mom’s shell” a.k.a. “your mom’s…” YIKES!

19. Use both hands in Japan.

When handing off something important in Japan, such as business cards and gifts, it is expected that you give and receive said object with both hands. Doing otherwise is considered disrespectful and insincere.

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