Common Hand Gestures To Avoid Abroad

Here are some handy tips for traveling overseas.
woman pointing out the window to a child hand gestures and their meanings

Whether you’re studying abroad or on vacation, the last thing you want to do is unintentionally offend someone by saying something rude. But what if it’s your hands that are doing the talking? We may think we intuitively understand hand gestures and their meanings, but as it turns out, they don’t always translate naturally across cultures. Keep reading to learn some common hand gestures to avoid making abroad.

Hand Gestures And Their Meanings

Okay Sign

hand making okay sign hand gestures and their meanings

What you meant to say: “Sounds good” or “I approve”

What you’re actually saying: In Germany, you just called someone an a**hole. Now who’s the…

Backwards Peace Sign

hand making backwards peace sign

What you meant by it: If you’re flashing the backwards peace sign, we’re going to assume you’re posing for a picture or taking a selfie.

If someone sees you: You just gave them the equivalent of the middle finger if you’re in the U.K., Australia, Ireland or New Zealand. Whoops!

Index Finger On Temple

man pointing index finger to temple hand gestures and their meanings

What you meant to say: “I’m thinking”

What you’re actually saying: That you think the person you’re talking to is crazy, which in Germany is called “showing someone the bird.” This is likely because birds were thought to have low intelligence, similar to the U.S. expression “bird brain.”

Fist To Forehead

woman holding fist to forehead

What you meant to say: This is another commonly used one to express “I’m thinking” in the U.S.

What you’re actually saying: In Brazil, you’d be calling yourself an idiot. This hand gesture is used to illustrate that you just did something stupid, like trying to eat ice cream with your forehead.

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