Archive: Favorite Gestures: 2006-2010
Every culture has its ways to communicate non-verbally. The wrong sign can get the innocent traveler into big fist-shaking trouble. Please share any insights you've picked up in your travels.
A trip to remember
At Frankfurt airport 3 years ago I was connecting to Israel and made friends on my United Flight with this Executive who happens to work for Lufthansa at SFO. We were talking about traveling and Rick Steves. When I went to get a coffee at the SFO airport before my flight he was on the phone with Lufthansa/United and was able to get me a Business Class seat on all of my flights plus entrance into the lounge.
He was telling me how lonely he was being away from his wife and children for many years. In return for keeping him company he upgraded me and got me into the lounges. The gesture was unexpected as I was on a Consolidator Fare Ticket.
So it pays to talk with your fellow passengers. I learned so much about the German culture and he even treated me to a Beer at the Beergarten at Frankfurt Airport. What a nice guy(:
CA USA 05/20/2010
I got a lot of smiles in Germany recently when I added a "Buddhist Bow" (hands clasped prayer like in front of your face, nodding your head and hands at the same time) to any situation that needed extra thanks. Put in with a "Vielen, vielen Dank!" was the best way I found to non-verbally communicate that I thought they went out of their way to be super nice!
Tallahassee, FL USA 05/18/2010
Greek Way of Saying No or Yes
When travelling to Greece, don't confuse the gestures meaning "yes" or "no". A Greek "no" (???) will look very similar to the American head nod meaning yes. Greeks will move their chin upwards nodding their head once sometimes slowly, but often quickly. This is usually combined with a clicking noise created when the speaker sucks in against his or her teeth. Often, the movement is difficult to catch to someone not used to it.
When a Greek wants to acknowledge with a "yes" (?a?) he will move his head downwards and to the side, almost in a slight J-shape. Eyes are usually partially closed during this gesture.
It can be very confusing, because what looks like a definitive nod yes to Americans is often a well understood no in Greece.
Richmond, VA USA Tue 06/02/2009
Come / go symbol
Hands outstretched, palm down. Move quickly down, curving hand towards you and you go. Repeat once or twice. In most of Asia, it means "come here". To Westerners, it's often confused as something like "go away"!
London, UK Fri 02/13/2009
Spanish Hand Gesture
The hand gesture when you hold your palm face up, and then flip it over, to face down (Flipping)means "kind of"
Ocoee, Florid USA Wed 12/31/2008
Two raised fingers in England
Just to reinforce what Courtney said--I lived in England for a few months doing a study abroad program. There were more than a couple times in the first month or so that I wondered why the bartender looked so confused (or offended) when I asked for two drinks by raising my index and middle finger with the back of my hand to them. Nobody ever mentioned it, I think because of my accent, but it took me a while to realize that I had basically been flipping off bartenders on a regular basis for at least a few weeks!
Salt Lake City, Utah USA Mon 10/27/2008
While in Italy, place your thumb tip onto your middle finger and surround them with the other fingers. Then tap your forehead with that hand, while lifting your right foot to your left kneecap. People will inadvertently leave you alone.
Sparks, Nevada USA Wed 10/08/2008
Careful indicating the number
In Britain and Ireland--Be careful not to indicate the number "two" by showing the back of your hand in the number two/"V" sign. Show that you would like "2" of something by facing your palm to the person instead. The V sign, when the palm is facing toward the person giving the sign, has long been an insulting gesture in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
Austin, TX USA Mon 09/08/2008
Spanish Hand Gesture
It means "come here".
San Francisco, CA USA Wed 09/05/2007
The double thumbs-up gesture seems common in Italy. It means an enthusiastic A-OK, I think. I like it and think it probably doesn't have a more sinister meaning elsewhere. Just to be safe, I try to avoid hand gestures.
Napa, USA Sun 07/01/2007
When helped by a friendly shop clerk while visiting friends in Brazil, I tried to overcome the language barrier by signalling the American "OK" - you know - with my thumb and first finger toucing and the other three fingers in the air. My friend quickly grabbed my outstretched hand, pulled it down to my side, and explained this gesture is the same as flipping someone off! That explained the confused look on that sweet clerk's face!
High Adventure Girl
Olathe, Kansas USA Wed 06/20/2007
Counting in Italy
When you use your fingers to count in Italy remember this. They use their thumbs as 1 & index finger as 2. Most Americans use an index finger to signify 1. I learned this when ordering pizza in Rome. My travel buddy wanted one slice of pizza & held up an index finger & when the order came back it was 2 slices. Live & learn...
Louisville, KY USA Mon 06/11/2007
Response to those squat toilets
Squat toilets: Okay, should there be a new subject category opened for this newly posed dilemma? It IS important to know what to do! I always carefully avoided the "REAL" Paris for fear I'd be confronted with a squat toilet but after a trip to Africa (and watching a young child handle business on the edge of the sidewalk) I was able to "master" the "technique"! So, here goes from someone who knows "how to do it" -- at least for ladies! First, check to see what is provided! If you are an older woman, squatting can be quite difficult on the knees and you certainly don't want to fall over! Is there anything on the wall you can grab hold of? Should you loop a scarf or belt through a door handle to give you momentum when trying to get up? Do you need to spread extra paper that you brought on the floor to set your hands on as you push yourself up? Do you have an umbrella or walking stick to help you up? Think about this!!! Now, the technique... This is when wearing a skirt REALLY has advantages! Hold your skirt up around your waist--maybe tuck it in under your bra??? Pull your panties down to, or just below, your knees. Squat ALL the way--don't just hunch over or you'll dribble down your legs! (Be careful not to tilt too far back or your bottom may touch the toilet floor (eeoooh!)Perhaps keep another piece of toilet paper handy so you can control and block a shooting stream of pee! (That is also why you want your panties near your knees so they are as high off the ground as possible.) If you must do #2, you'll wonder why we Americans don't do "squats"! This body position makes taking care of business SO much easier and satisfying!--Honest! Yes, this is a gross subject, but VERY needed! Only as a very small child did I ever have to squat in the woods--one time so never learned "how"! If I had not seen that little child in Africa, I would have made a mess in toilet stalls, behind trees and even on the game preserve! Remember--squat all the way! Let your thigh skin touch your calve skin!
Been there, done that!
USA Fri 05/11/2007
Waving the hand in front of the face in Germany means that you are crazy. They call it blöt. It usually happens in traffic and if someone does this to you, you have done something stupid.
Übach-Palenberg, USA Fri 04/27/2007
Head Shake in Bulgaria
In Bulgaria, the "yes" and "no" headshakes are reversed. And, while most Bulgarians have no problem understanding your "yes" and "no" it may not stop them from shakeing their head "no" "no" "no" as you talk with them.
Webster Groves, MO USA Sun 02/25/2007
I agree with the hand wave in front of the face in Germany, I use that a lot here in the states. It sort of means "hello? what were you thinking." Another favorite is pointing the index finger twice on your forehead, that means someone is stupid. Sort of like an "insert brain here" gesture. Also comes in handy in the states if you don't want anyone to know what you mean.
Seattle, WA USA Fri 02/16/2007
Spanish Hand Gesture
Does anyone know what the hand gesture means when you hold your palm face up, and then flip it over, to face down, with fingers pointing away from you.
This happened a few times in Spain.. I have a feeling what it meant..
Mississauga, Ontari Canada Mon 02/12/2007
Hand waving and blank faces in Germany
In Germany, you can be ticketed or worse for "giving someone the finger" while driving. So if you accidentally cut someone off, or fail to get out of the way of someone flying at you in the fast lane, expect to see folks wave their hand palm in in front of their own face, while mouthing explatives at you. Then of course, there is the German "un-gesture." The default facial expression in most of Germany is none at all. If you smile with out some really obvious reason, most Germans will either A) think you are not right in the head or B) immediately pick you out as a foreigner.
Bergisch Gladbach, Germany Tue 01/16/2007
Of course its the Croatian shrug. I know a man in US who always shrugs and was from Croatia many years ago. He never forgot his shrug., well I finally understood it when we went to Croatia. It hysterical!!
USA Thu 12/28/2006
in Croatia its the shrug. Read about it in Ricks books, and we laughed when we would get it from everyone.
USA Thu 11/16/2006
My favorite is the index finger drilling into the cheek to indicate "good food."
USA Thu 11/02/2006