Be careful with hand gestures!

I’m trying to be friendly. Really!

I recently came across an article that I think is worth considering, so I’ve excerpted parts of it and added some graphics…. Hope you enjoy it or find it useful or valuable in some way….

Gestures to Avoid in Cross-Cultural Business: In Other Words, ‘Keep Your Fingers to Yourself!’

06/13/2013 05:16 pm ET | Updated Aug 13, 2013 by Gayle Cotton, author of ‘Say Anything to Anyone Anywhere: 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication

My research came as a response to another article commenting on D. Trump’s use of hand gestures that have different meanings in different cultures. Cotton’s article, which I’ve excerpted/edited, was written before DJT entered the race for US President in 2015.

Heart sign.jpeg

“People from every culture, including various country leaders and several U.S. presidents, have been guilty of unintentionally offending people from different cultures through the use of inappropriate gestures. When it comes to body language gestures, the wisest advice might be to keep your fingers to yourself!

In Brazil, Germany, Russia, and many other countries around the world, the OK sign is a very offensive gesture … used to depict a private bodily orifice. In Japan it [may] mean ‘money’ ; it is commonly used to signify “zero” in France …

Peace! or Up yours! You decide!

Most people are aware that the V for victory or peace sign was made popular by Winston Churchill in England during WWII. However, … if you make this gesture with your palm facing inward in Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and several other countries throughout the world, it in essence means “Up yours!” 
[Let’s not forget, however, that in many places, this is the ‘Peace!’ sign. And that’s a good thing, right? It depends on the viewer…]


On Inauguration Day 2005, President George W. Bush raised his fist, with the index and little finger extended, to give the time honoured ‘hook ‘em horns gesture’ of the Texas Longhorn football team to the marching band of the University of Texas. Newspapers around the world expressed their astonishment at the use of such a gesture. Italians refer to it as “il cornuto,” which means that you are being cuckolded (that is, that your wife is cheating on you!). It’s considered a curse in some African countries, and is … an offensive gesture in many other parts of the world.


The thumbs-up gesture is commonly used in many cultures to signify a job well done. However, if it is used in Australia, Greece, or the Middle East — especially if it is thrust up as a typical hitchhiking gesture would be — it means essentially “Up yours!” or “Sit on this!” … In Germany and Hungary, the upright thumb is used to represent the number 1; however, it represents the number 5 in Japan. Take heed all you global negotiators: there is a big difference between 1 and 5 million!

[Personally, I think the accompanying facial expression should be considered as well as the position of the thumb. Don’t you think? Click image to enlarge.


… simply pointing with the index finger at something or someone … is considered a very rude thing to do in China, Japan, Indonesia, Latin America, and many other countries. In Europe, it’s thought of as impolite, and in many African countries the index finger is used only for pointing at inanimate objects, never at people. It’s best to use an open hand with all your fingers together when you need to point at something or someone.


[The gesture above could also be seen as pointing a gun at someone, a very threatening gesture.

How ironic that, when appearing on a big stage, celebs and politicians love to point at people in the audience. Pointing at someone when angry can be very intimidating!]


Curling the index finger with the palm facing up is a common gesture that people in the United States use to beckon someone to come closer. However, it is considered a rude gesture in Slovakia, China, East Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and many other parts of the world. It’s also considered extremely impolite to use this gesture with people. It is used only to beckon dogs in many Asian countries — and using it in the Philippines can actually get you arrested!


The appropriate way to beckon someone in much of Europe, and parts of Asia, is to face the palm of your hand downward and move your fingers in a scratching motion. [I learned this in Japan, where, to many westerners, it looks rather childish.]


The open hand or “moutza” gesture is insulting in parts of Africa and Asia, Greece, Pakistan, and in several other countries. It is formed by opening your palm with your fingers slightly apart and extending your arm toward someone, much like a wave in the U.S. This may seem harmless enough to many Westerners, however if someone does it with a more abrupt arm extension, its meaning changes to, “Enough is enough,” or “Let me stop you right there.” In other words, “Talk to the hand, because the face isn’t listening!”

Check out these variations:

When it comes to body language gestures in the communication process, the important thing to keep in mind is that what we say, we say with our words, tonality, and body language … which often conveys more than the words we use. At times, it can completely change — or even nullify — our words’ meaning.

Almost every gesture using fingers is sure to offend someone, somewhere, at some time. As a rule of thumb (no pun intended!), it is best to avoid using any single finger as a gesture — unless you are absolutely sure it is appropriate for a particular culture or country. Open-handed gestures, with all fingers generally together, is usually considered the safest approach. [Oh, and control the tongue, too!]

There are countless additional gestures that mean something different in every culture. Gestures have such a profound influence on communication that it really is best to keep your fingers to yourself!”

In a future article, I plan to examine the meaning of smiling/not smiling, and use of the tongue and teeth in different cultures…. Stay tuned?