While travelling abroad, when you need to communicate and you don’t have the luxury of shared language, the body language comes to play. Most of the skilled traveler can negotiate a taxi, buy food in a market, and get directions from a stranger through simple gestures. But these gestures can set you in trouble when a typical gesture from your country means something completely different in other parts of the world. Below are the common gestures that can cause offense abroad.
No thumbs up in Thailand.
Although a positive hand gesture in many parts of the world, the thumbs up sign can be considered offensive in countries such as Thailand. In Thailand, it’s considered to be a teasing gesture, very similar to sticking out your tongue.
Not “OK” in France
Making a circle with your thumb and forefinger means “great” or “fine” in many parts of world. It’s also used by deep sea divers to communicate that there are no problems. In France, this gesture means “zero.” It is equivalent to saying “something is worthless”. A bad idea when you are trying to compliment someone in France.
Patting on the head in Thailand, Laos and Sri Lanka
Touching or patting someone on the head is considered rude in some parts of Asia. In countries such as Thailand, Laos, and Sri Lanka it is considered offensive because as Buddhists, they regard the head as the most sacred part of the body.
One hand in Japan
In Japan, offering objects to others with one hand is considered dismissive. You better use both hands while offering someone a business card, or hand them something.
No closing fist in India & Pakistan
Sense of victory? Maybe to some, but in India & Pakistan a closed fist can be taken as the equivalent of “up yours.”
Not “EVEN” in Russia
In Russia, giving someone an even number of flowers is considered extremely inappropriate. Bouquets with an even amount of flowers are only reserved for funerals and other serious events because they are traditionally seen as “inviting death.” So if you’re gifting flowers to someone, make sure it’s an odd number.
In Bulgaria “YES” means “NO” and “NO” means “YES”
This one is most confusing. In Bulgaria shaking your head “YES” means “NO” and vice versa. So if you ever find yourself Bulgaria, be careful, or else you’ll confuse a lot of people.
Don’t stare too hard in Japan and some parts of India
Eye contact should remain brief or it can be mistaken for aggression and lead to an uncomfortable situation. In Punjab (state of India) staring too hard is considered very aggressive and seen as “Inviting Fight”.
No Rock n Roll in Spain & Italy
The rock n roll signal which is very common in many parts of the world is considered extremely offensive and abusive in France & Italy.
Avoid playing “I got your nose” with Turkish friends
This gesture is considered equivalent to throwing up the middle finger in Turkey. So avoid this game with your Turkish friends.