Innocent hand gestures NOT to use abroad

2014-04-30 10:26
Showing your kid a thumbs-up when they’ve done something awesome is pretty standard here in South Africa.  

So is using the Ok-sign to compliment your friend on her amazing cooking. However, using these same hand gestures in foreign countries may mean wildly different things. For real!

Yup, just like our verbal languages differ, so do, it seems, our non-verbal gestures.  

Here’s a list of seven every-day hand signs you are better off avoiding while travelling to certain parts of the world.  

Thumbs up

Where not to do it: Afghanistan, Iran, Greece and Italy

Well, this is awkward, Facebook… umm… yeah. In Afghanistan and Iran, as well parts of Italy and Greece the thumbs-up (or ‘like’) sign actually means ‘up yours.’

On the bright side, every time someone posts a stupid status update you can 'like' it and pretend you're in Afghanistan. Or not. 


Where not to do it: France, Venezuela, Brazil and Turkey

If you’re a diver, you will be especially well-acquainted with this sign. It is after all the one you use to reassure your diving buddies that you’re all good and there’s nothing immediate to panic about.

However, if you use it in France to indicate something is good or pleasant, your good intensions will be shattered when the recipient of your gesture will interpret it as “zero” or “worthless.”  

And in Venezuela, Brazil and Turkey they will just think you’re a sick, vulgar disgrace of a human being for flashing that at anyone.  

Finger call

Where not to do it: 
Why are you doing it in the first place?

Wiggling your index finger to call someone? Really? Unless you’re pulling an angry mommy persona with your kids, or trying to be faux-sexy for your partner, it’s really not a great gesture to start off with.  

However, it gets a whole lot worse in the Philippines, where it is only used to summon dogs (huh? Dogs actually listen to that?) and considered super rude when used on people.  

In Japan and Singapore it gets even worse, as it means death. So, ya, don’t use it there either.  

Fingers crossed

Where not to do it: Vietnam

What could possibly be uncouth about this universal signal for good luck?  Well, if you use it in Vietnam, it will be interpreted as a vulgar sign for a certain part of the female anatomy.

Once again, you will be considered sick in the head – definitely something you want to avoid while travelling.  

Devil horns

Where not to do it:  Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and Colombia

Rather risqué to start off with, the horn-like sign used to express your delight at a rock concert won’t make you seem hardcore in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and Colombia, where it is used to indicate that someone’s wife has been unfaithful.  

In short… it will just get you punched in the face.  

Pat on the head

Where not to do it:

One of our favourite ways of showing affection to little kids, our other halves, friends and pets is patting them gently on the head… or ruffling their hair. However, this is a huge taboo in Thailand, where the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body.  


Where not to do it: Greece

Want to get someone to stop whatever they’re doing and listen to you in Greece?

Well, you definitely will not manage that by using the good old palm thrust. Apart from being super invasive (everywhere, really), it is also considered a terrible insult to Greeks.

Pics from Shutterstock
Read more on:    travel  |  travel international

SHARE: publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside Travel


#FindYourEscape with Traveller24

Your insider guide to exploring South Africa and the world...
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.