WORLD OF TEXT

World of Gestures

Posted on: 30. Juni 2011

An article published a short time ago in the Schweriner Volkszeitung describes gestures as being a language on their own and, as with any language, when you move from country to country you may not always understand what exactly is being said.

The article tells us that whilst nodding your head means “ja” in Germany, it means exactly the opposite in Greece; forming a circle your thumb and your forefinger to signal that everything is ok could get you in trouble in Spain where it has a more vulgar meaning and lazily lying your foot across your knee would cause great offence in Asian and Arabic cultures.

With this in mind, I decided to trawl the net to see which other common gestures have different meanings in different cultures. Here are my most important findings:

  • The ‘ok’ sign also means that something is worthless in France and signifies money in Japan – interestingly enough, various websites quote Germany as being one of the countries where this hand gesture has a rude   meaning, however, my German friends, colleagues and the Schweriner Volkszeitung disagree
  • A thumbs up gesture is not at all positive in the Middle East or West Africa where it is a vulgar insult
  • What an English person would perceive as an offensive hand gesture (index and middle fingers up, palm facing outwards), is the peace sign in North America or simply just a way of indicating that you’d like two of something
  • Crossing your fingers à la the United Kingdom’s National Lottery logo won’t bring you any luck in Vietnam, where it is seen as the ultimate obscene gesture
  • Beckoning someone to come towards you with your index finger actually signifies death in Singapore, and could get you arrested in the Philippines!

There are many more examples of body language that is interpreted differently in different countries and, as well as being fascinating, it’s a little disheartening. Nobody (that I know of) can speak all the languages of the world, but there is always the presumption that even if you don’t share a common spoken language with someone, you could manage to communicate a simple message using gestures. As it happens, you could communicate a simple message – but it may not be the one you intended!

Until I attend some foreign body language classes, I will be keeping my arms firmly by my side and hoping that that doesn’t have some unfortunate double meaning either.

Bis bald

Jess

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