3 Hand Gestures You Should Probably Avoid While Overseas

3 Hand Gestures You Should Probably Avoid While Overseas

We use our hands for a lot of things. Cook a juicy steak, scratch an itch, catch a ball travelling at 30m/s… whatever the activity, our hands probably can play a key role in it.

More than just for completing tasks, our hands are also essential tools for us to connect, form relationships and communicate with others. By spreading all five fingers and moving your palm side to side, you are waving goodbye. By holding another person’s hand and moving it up and down, you’re greeting with a handshake.


However, just like the spoken language, hand gestures are heavily affected by cultural factors. That’s why you may find yourself being stared down while using an “universal” hand gesture in a foreign country. Here are top 3 “universal” hand gestures to avoid for a social faux pas:

1. Peace-Out

Here’s a little historical tidbit: in 1992, George W. Bush made a diplomatic visit to Australia and managed to offend the whole country when he made a V sign at the crowd. Dear George had made the mistake of doing it with his palm faced inwards and unfortunately for him, the gesture was Australia’s version of flipping the bird a.k.a “F*ck off”.

2. Thumbs-Up

How can a thumbs up be something negative? We’d usually be in agreement that this is a gesture used to signify positivity – that everything is good or excellent. In countries such as Australia, Greece and the Middle East, you might want to keep your thumbs to yourself since the gesture could also mean “shove it up your *ss”, or worse.

3. OK


Another common gesture that has unintended meaning in a foreign culture is the one where you would usually use to signify acknowledgement or that everything is well. However, the gesture also means “your anus” in France and Mediterranean countries such as Brazil. It does make you wonder what French divers do to communicate smooth diving underwater, doesn’t it?

Communicating with people from different cultures can be interesting, though at the same time it is best to do some research beforehand to identify the basic formalities and demonstrate respect towards another person. As we become more connected with each other, so do we have to learn to become more inclusive of differences in order to make the best out of the experience.