Making yourself understood abroad can sometimes play out like an embarrassing game of charades. What may seem like an innocent gesture here could have a completely different — and possibly obscene — meaning in another country. To help you avoid offending anyone, here are a few gestures to steer clear of.
Gesture: Thumbs up (pt. 1)
What you think it means: “It’s all good!”
What it means in Thailand: A serious side-eye (or similar). Some say it’s very offensive, while others contend it’s more childish than obscene, like sticking your tongue out. Best just to play it safe and keep your hands in your pockets.
What it means in Arabic countries: A thumbs up in any Muslim country pretty much means, loosely translated, that you hope the person you’re gesturing at has a very pleasant trip to the proctologist.
Gesture: A “V” sign (with the palm facing inward)
What you think it means: “Peace, man!”
What it means in Great Britain and Australia: The equivalent of giving someone the middle finger.
Gesture: An extended open palm
What you think it means: “Stop!” or “Talk to the hand!”
What it means in Greece: “I’d like to rub excrement in your face. The meaning behind this rude gesture reportedly dates back to the Byzantine Empire, when citizens were encouraged to rub excrement in the faces of shackled prisoners. At least that’s what the Internet says, and everyone knows the Internet doesn’t lie.
Gesture: The “OK” (or “Rabbit”, if you’re making shadow animals on the wall)
What you think it means: “Everything’s all good!”
What it means in Greece and Turkey: “You’re a man, and you’re attracted to other men”. We see the letters “O” and “K”, while they see a well-dressed person who moisturizes and is well-versed in the works of Streisand.
Gesture: Fingers crossed
What you think it means: “I hope everything turns out alright”
What it means in Vietnam: Vietnamese people think crossed fingers look like lady parts, so flashing this at someone is the equivalent of calling them the C-word.
Gesture: Hook ’em horns
What you think it means: “Rock on!”
What it means in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and Colombia: “You’re so dense you don’t realize your wife is cheating on you”. Often done behind a guy’s back rather than to his face, this gesture’s a popular insult at soccer matches.
Gesture: Beckoning arm wave
What you think it means: “Come here!”
What it means in Singapore: Death is coming. In the Philippines, however, it’s a gesture fit only for dogs, and can actually land you in jail if you do it to a person.
Gesture: Giving something with your left hand
What you think it means: “I’m giving you something… and I just happen to be using my left hand”
What it means in many parts of the world: In a lot of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, the left hand is strictly reserved for wiping one’s ass, while the right hand is used for just about everything else. So handing someone an item with your pooping hand’s pretty inconsiderate.
Gesture: Pat on the head
What you think it means: “You’re so cute!”
What it means to anyone who’s Buddhist: A fondle of the privates. Buddhists believe the top of the head is where the spirit lives, so patting the head is considered extremely inappropriate.