Innocent gestures that mean rude things abroad

Innocent gestures that mean rude things abroad
Think you're a well-mannered person? Most people do — and so they might be, at home. But the most apparently harmless gestures and customs — the thumbs-up sign, a casual greeting, certain types of gifts — can be radically misconstrued on foreign soil, with embarrassing or even dangerous consequences.

Just remember: never shake hands with a Ukrainian in a doorway and never ever make the okay sign to a Greek.

Don't say we didn't warn you! Here's our essential guide to all sorts of unintended ways to offend your foreign friends.

The okay
Want to signal to someone you've met on holiday how blisteringly all right, fine and generally okay things are? Stop! Beware of making the round "okay" sign with your thumb and forefinger. In Greece and Turkey, for example, this gesture can be taken as highly vulgar. You are telling someone that they resemble a similarly shaped part of the human body and, by extension, that they are homosexual. In some Middle Eastern countries, such as Kuwait, the okay sign signifies the evil eye.
The finger
Should you ever find yourself in an Iranian carpet souk and want to signal to the rug dealer that he's finally named a price you can agree on, please don't give him the thumbs-up. You'd actually be telling him where he could stick his offer, rather than the desired effect. Giving someone the finger - showing them your raised middle digit, palm towards you - might be the most widespread obscene gesture in Western countries (it probably originated in ancient Greece and was spread by the Romans) but you'll find on your travels that almost any protruding digit will cause offence somewhere. In the Philippines summoning someone with a finger is considered suitable only for dogs and is punishable by arrest.
The point
Is this the way to your famous shrine/mosque/temple? Be careful how you ask such questions when travelling. Pointing with your finger is rude in so many countries it's probably wise just to abandon the gesture altogether overseas. Use an open hand instead to indicate direction.
The feed
Burgers might have spread around the world but chowing down on one with both hands certainly hasn't. Don't eat anything with your left hand in Muslim countries or in India. That part of the body is used for an entirely different function in such places, one people don't want to be reminded of when eating. The left hand really is a poor relation of the right in these parts of the world; you should also avoid gesturing or shaking hands with it. As a curious variation, if their right hand is wet or dirty Senegalese people will offer their right wrist for a handshake or their left hand, but with an apology. Clearly, if you're left-handed and want to travel widely, it may be time to retrain or ask for a fork.
The hand-hold
Young boys can hold hands without comment in Australia, but grown men? It's probably a sign that they're partners, although traditional values being what they are, still not a common one. However, such Western views may represent a minority worldwide. It's quite unremarkable to see two male chums walking down the street holding hands, or arm in arm, in India and in Muslim and African lands.
The slurp
Slurping your soup - or indeed your coffee or tea - might be a no-no at your average Aussie table but in Japan it's considered good table manners. Slurping indicates you're enjoying the meal.
The tardy
Arriving 10 minutes late to a dinner party or drinks bash is considered polite in Oz but it's actually rather modest by some countries' standards. An hour's lateness is standard in laidback Argentina. Even three hours would not be thought rude for some informal occasions. And which country in the world puts the most emphasis on turning up exactly on time? No prizes for guessing the likely candidate. It's Germany.
The happy snap
It's easy enough to be offended in your own country by intrusive tourists snapping your photo without permission. On other occasions, you might be that intrusive tourist yourself. But the offence can go much further in certain African countries, such as in rural Ghana, where people might fear - this does make a certain sense - that by photographing them you are stealing their soul.
The compliment
"Oh, I love your settee!" is a harmless compliment - and perhaps a little white lie - when visiting someone's house in the West. But be wary of making such a remark in Arab and African countries, such as Jordan, Senegal and Nigeria. Your host might think he or she is obliged to give you the item in question. An awkward situation all round, especially if you have to cart the sofa home on your back.
The rage
Anger is increasingly okay in Australia. In business — if you're the boss — it means you're an alpha male or whatever the female equivalent is. In more informal settings it's just showing your feelings, it's called being emotionally healthy, California-style. But for safety's sake assume anger is generally not on when you travel. Many countries around the world still put a premium on emotional control in most settings. Your anger could be radically misinterpreted. In some African countries, such as Kenya, it could be taken as a sign of mental illness.

Be sure to check out our photo gallery with even more seemingly innocuous rude gestures by clicking here:

Know of any other seemingly innocuous gestures that offend on the road?

User comments
Not to forget that showing the bottom of your feet in Thailand is a no go - barefoot ferangs beware!
I think anyone walking up and taking your photo in any country would be rude. You should ask the person before snapping away. There are also a lot of misconceptions that aboriginal people don't like their picture taken, this is a very big generalisation. I know plenty of aboriginal people that LOVE their picture taken.
I thought I should mention as someone who works with remote indigenous australians, that some of the customs mentioned, which seem foreign to most aussies are also true for our indigenous friends. In traditional aboriginal culture it is also rude to point or gesture to come here with palms facing up and is also normal for men to hold hands.
I've heard most of this before - and just as a comment on 9, this applies to native tribes such as the Quechua of South America as well - only they like to make use of it the other way around, and tell you how much they like your posessions, which you are then obliged to hand over!
Clarification to those people for number 4. Dont use your left hand for eating inmuslim countries and india is because people there use the left hand to wash after toilet. ofcourse soap is used after the wash is complete. therefore its highly disgusting to see any westerners or others use their land hands. Many are not aware of the use of toilet tissues by the West. And it would sound more disgusting if you told them so, because they would say Westerners are so dirty as to leave that area unclean and smelly. As for the photo of two Saudis holding hand, someone commented why the person on the left was holding the left hand of the person on the right when holding the left hand would be disgusting as per rule 4. But not to worry, the hands are clean and theres no idiotic mentality of homosexuality which many westerners have.
In Japan, it is very polite to always have one hand contacting your dinner vessel, plate, bowl or whatever you have been supplied with. so add that to the slurp when eating, and don't forget to eat EVERY grain of rice as rice farmers and thier toils are highly respected,,, but if you're eating fairly mundane things, then leave a tiny bit on the plate as it shows you are full- don't think it's a good idea to drain your glass when a host offers you strong alcohol- the glass will be refilled, the host will try to keep up with you- and you'll both soon be off your face lol. what else about food in Jp? hnnnnn- don't try to help a hosts' mum or wife tidying up=- that's like you saying 'you obviously can't handle your chore so I'll help you' and of course is a bit of a slap in the face to the person who tried to make you a good meal. relax- das what a good host anywhere really wants- if you're living there then try to find something to help ease the burden of your stay on the family or pal.
I went to Vanuatu recently and saw a large percentage of grown men and women walking around holding hands with people of the same sex.. we were told that its quite a common thing in alot of non-western countries to hold hands with your friends regardless of their sex and it doesn't have the same 'meaning' as it would in a western country. Always a good idea to note things like those on the list before you travel so you don't end up in trouble!
Interesting about not using your left hand in Muslim countries....................... But I notice in the picture, 2 men holding hands?????? ***. Maybe the one on the right went to the Second hand shop and bought some executed criminal's right hand as a spare, to hold in his left hand...... Perhaps they walk along holding right hands, with one person walking backwards?? They must be a real ball with their women, using one hand.
One very important, and often very overlooked offensive gesture is that of patting a child on the head. In Buddhist and Hindu cultures patting a child's head or ruffling their hair is considered to be most offensive. The top of the head is home to the "Crown Chakra" and this is the "source" of enlightenment. By patting or ruffling on this area you are considered to be trying to "block" or"scramble" the energy of the child. This gesture is so commonplace and "kindly" here in Australia,but in Asia and India, especially children will be picked up and hidden from you, and the adults who witness this gesture will turn,walk away and ignore you. Not great if you need their assistance in any matter!
Many aboriginals don't like thier photo taken for the same reason. . so don't forget your manners at home either and ask first.