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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   3 min read

Speaking with your hands comes very handy when travelling to countries with foreign languages. What is funny however is that some motions and signs which seem completely normal to you might have other, sometimes very offensive, meanings somewhere on the other side of the world! Find out that hand gestures could land you in trouble while travelling!

The Thumb

Sticking one’s thumb out to the side is generally known around North America and Europe as the sign for hitchhiking. It lets drivers know you are looking for a ride. We also give the “thumbs up” to congratulate someone or to give the “okay” on something. In most countries it has really positive connotations. But if you are travelling to the Middle East, it is one of the worst signs to give openly in the streets. It is a sign of insult. This is also true in some parts of West Africa, Australia and Thailand.

The V Sign

Winston Churchill giving the "peace sign." (public)

With your hand raised and your index and middle finger split, forms the “V” with your palm facing out. This can be perceived as a sign of peace, the popular gesture from the 60s movement in the USA and Europe. It can also mean victory or the sign for the number 2. But be careful not to make this sign with your palm facing in. Even in places like Great Britain and other Anglo-Saxon countries like Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. You run the risk of seriously offending the people around you.

There is an urban legend says that the V sign was “invented” during the 100 Years War as a sign of confidence. English arches would hold up their fingers at the French to show them that they still have two to shoot arrows with their bow. This story was probably invented but you never know!

The Wink

The intentional wink is known in most Western cultures as a sign of letting someone know that you are making a joke,  you let someone in on it with a wink. While in most parts of Latin America a wink is an invitation for something romantic or sexual. So make sure that you clarify your intentions if you are throwing winks around left and right! This little gesture is used in China to mimic someone. So wink moderately. 😉

The Horns

This sign is made by extending the index finger and little one while holding down the middle two with your thumb. It is used all over the world for different things. In America for example it is the most common sign seen as a rock concert, it means “rock out! this is so cool!” While in Mediterranean countries this is seen as a very vulgar insult. You see it everywhere though, in concert posters, at the football stadiums, on photographs all over the web… The sign itself refers to imitating the horns of the Devil and the meaning can change depending on whether your palm faces in or faces out. If you’re not sure, its best to refrain from “rocking out” in most Mediterranean cities.

There are however some signs that have kept their meaning in all places. A smile is always a welcomed gesture and a laugh cuts through all cultural barriers! Have a funny story to tell about hand signs and travelling? Comment below!

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