Hand Gestures and Cultural Differences

Hand Gestures and Cultural Differences

In society today we feel that we have a pretty good grasp on what gestures of our body are appropriate and which ones are not. That may be true in our social realms but what happens when we travel to another country? Or when we are surrounded by people of a different culture? It is important to know the habits of cultures you are planning on visiting as a simple “thumbs up” could be a rude and socially unacceptable gesture. We learn that “Common hand gestures…routinely sow confusion in everything from the simplest tourist transaction to moments of great import” according to the article “Hand Gestures” by Boris Kachka.

Gestures that we do every day in a warm and inviting way, like waving hello for example, can be misunderstood in the wrong environment. When we wave hello to a friend across the room we may wave our arms back and forth. In many cultures this means “no” and “in India for “come here.”” (Kachka, 2008, p. 112) These are motions that we may do without thinking, an automatic reaction to get a friends attention or to greet them. We as travelers may even read a persons greeting incorrectly. For example, in Greece and Italy making a “beckoning motion” with your hand means hello.

When traveling there are many different things that can be misconstrued by those watching you. In Greece, for instance, if you were to hold out your hand in front of you as if to say “stop” you would instead be casting a curse called the moutza. (Kachka, 2008, p. 112) Imagine walking down the street and having a complete stranger casting a curse on you. This would not be welcomed and certainly would be considered a hostile gesture. In some Asian cultures this action means that you are requesting permission to speak. If you were to give a thumbs up sign to an Iraqi you would instead be saying “Up yours.” (Kachka, 2008, p. 112)

Culturally we learn what is acceptable and what is not from those around us. These are actions that have been passed down for generations....

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