The hand gestures you might use at home – often mean something quite different in another country. Imagine travelling the world and making ‘unknown’ mistakes – some of them quite insulting! I looked at the rules and bad gestures and then added my own story. Enjoy, paula.
Gift Giving: Japan
You have worked in Tokyo for three months and your boss has been very kind to you. He is a little old-fashioned and believes in courteous manners and customs. You decide that you will give him a gift. It is nicely wrapped and you extend it to him. He does not smile and leaves the room. One of your co-workers tells you that it is offensive to give a Japanese person a gift with only one hand. Instead, you should have placed the gift across two hands and offered it. Two hands show that you are attentive and sincere, while one hand can be dismissive. You ask your co-worker to apologize for you!
Philippines Requesting a Photo
You are walking along the beach when you see this child. She waves to you and to make the sign with your fingers to ‘come here.’ Her mother shouts at you in a language that you do not understand. Another person on the beaches observes the situation and explains that only dogs are called this way. You ask the interpreter to apologize to the woman and child. You see a nice dog and you use the fingers and ‘come here, it growls and shows its teeth!
You are seated opposite a Buddhist monk in a bus station. Your feet are tired and you put them on your backpack with the heels facing the monk. A man tells you to take down your feet. You are angry and say, “This is my backpack and I can put my feet where I damn well want to place them.” The man is horrified. An older woman comes and says, “Let me explain why that man wanted you to take your feet off your backpack. Yes, it is your backpack, but you are offending the monk by showing him the souls of your shoes.” You take your feet down and bow slightly and apologetically towards the monk. He bows back with a smile that says that you are forgiven. You re-arrange your backpack so it points to a bin (trash/garbage/litter/container).
You are in India or the Middle East holding your backpack in your right hand. You notice your host from the picture that he sent you. Not wanting to put down your backpack, you extend your left hand. Your host refuses to shake hands. He is kind and says, “I can only shake your right hand.” You shake him by the right hand and while you are driving, you ask him what was wrong with your left hand. You add, “I washed both of them before I met you.” He is a little embarrassed and explains that before toilet paper (and in isolated villages) the left hand is used to clean the body. He tells you to never put your left hand into a communal dish, or shakes hands with it. You apologize once more and embarrassed you put both hands in your jean pockets. “No take them out,” your host states. ” Don’t do that gesture at dinner tonight. It shows people that you are bored with them!” You decide that maybe you might fake an illness and avoid meeting people, but the smell of food – encourages you to be brave!
You have enjoyed the old man who works around your hostel. He always smiles and waves to you as he tends to the garden. One day, as he is kneeling on the grass, you pat him on the head. He yells at you! Gets up and walks away. You tell the woman on the desk that the gardener seems to be in a mad mood. She tells you that this cannot be true and asks you what happened. You say that you made the friendly gesture of patting him on the head. She puts her hands to her mouth in horror. You never touch a Buddhist’s head. It is our belief that the head is sacred and that the spirit dwells there. She promises to apologize to the gardener. What possible other mistakes can you make?
The next day, the gardener has forgiven you and waves. You give him the ‘thumbs up’ and again he is upset and walks away. You learn that you have told him to stick his thumb where it will not see sunshine! You avoid the gardener for the rest of your stay.
When you finally check out, you apologize once again to the nice Vietnamese older lady who has helped
you recover from your ‘rude’ and inappropriate hand gestures. She tells you to be careful and not to
repeat the same mistakes. She escorts you to the door and you turn and give her the ‘crossed fingers’
or “let’s hope so – or in this case, “let’s hope you won’t make the same mistakes – fingers crossed.” She stares and you and slams the door in your face. What was that all about?
At the airport you learn from the internet that giving a crossed finger sign is extremely rude. Never do it to women! Vietnamese believe that the crossing of the fingers resembles a female’s vagina. Flashing this at someone is the equivalent of calling them the C-word. You vow to research all gestures before the next country on your list – and – you will send that nice older Vietnamese woman a gift. (but first you will check out gifts for Vietnamese woman. LOL paula.