There are a lot of hand gestures we make everyday in our cultures that would be considered disrespectful and downright rude in other parts of the world
The simplest hand gestures can invoke a lot of emotion or even lead to some dire consequences: ignorance is not always bliss.
Need a few examples?
How about when Richard Nixon caused a media frenzy when he insulted the entire Brazil by waving an “OK” sign at them from the steps of Air Force One?
Or when George W. Bush flashed the "Hook 'em, 'horns" gesture in Norway? The Norwegians interpret this hand gesture as a salute to Satan.
Sometimes, this type of faux pas can be explained away quite quickly, but in other cases, like using the “five-fathers” gesture in the Arabic world, not knowing the difference between what is ok and what is not ok could land you in some legal trouble.
2-minute video: 5 Gestures to avoid internationally
5 more hand gestures to avoid internationally
In this infographic, we highlight the top ten hand gestures you should avoid using before getting on an international stage.
- Pointing with the index finger at something or someone can be offensive in many cultures. While pointing at inanimate objects is usually fine, never at people.
Avoid using in: China, Japan, Indonesia, Latin America, and many African countries
- Chin Flick: While not as aggressive as flashing the middle finger, this gesture is used as a mildly insulting brush-off.
Avoid using in: Belgium, France, Northern Italy, Tunisia
- Left Hand In some countries, the left hand is traditionally seen as unclean, because it is associated with cleaning yourself after using the bathroom.
Avoid Using In: The Middle East, India, Sri Lanka, and Africa.
- Rock On In some countries, the devil horn gesture can be used to indicate that someone’s wife has been unfaithful.
Avoid Using In: The Baltics, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Portugal, Spain
- Peace Sign With Palm Facing Inward Make sure that when you have your index and middle fingers pointed up in the V shape, your palm always facing outward.
Avoid Using In: United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand.
- Come here This motion signifies death in some cultures, and in others, it is gesture solely used for dogs and is considered very rude.
Avoid Using In: The Philippines, Singapore, and Japan
- The OK It’s not OK in certain countries. It’s a vulgar slang that will offend pretty much anyone you flash it at.
Avoid Using In: Turkey, Brazil, Venezuela, and France.
- Thumbs-Up Although it means approval in the U.S. is some cultures it means “up yours.”
Avoid Using In: Afghanistan, Iran, parts of Italy, and Greece.
- The Moutza has acquired a lot connotations, from sexual, to aggressive, to dismissive. Either way, in many parts of the world it is considered very offensive.
Avoid Using in: Africa, Asia, Greece, and Pakistan.
- Five Fathers: The symbol represents one woman having so many sexual partners that it's impossible to determine who the father was. The most inflammatory hand gesture in the Arab world, and will almost certainly provoke violence.
Avoid using in: Arab and Caribbean countries
Do your research, and check to make sure that your hand symbols and body language are communicating in a way your international audience will understand.
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This article originally appeared on the the SpeakerHub blog in August 2016, and was edited and reposted in May 2017.