Travelling Abroad? Keep These Hand Gestures in Mind!

Travelling Abroad? Keep These Hand Gestures in Mind!
A woman throws the 'shaka', a friendly sign of taking it easy, Photo Credit: Unsplash

When you finally bid the Duolingo owl goodbye, these gestures are quick hacks to fit into the social circle of a foreign land

Nayanika Mukherjee
September 10 , 2019
04 Min Read

The Respectful Thai Wai

The wai is Thailand’s traditional greeting. It’s similar to the Indian namaskar, with palms pressed in a prayer-like fashion, but has varying levels of presentation depending on who’s in front of you. The safest, if meeting someone of an unknown status, is to press your palms, place your fingertips below your chin, and your elbows against your sides. For a bit more respect, you can touch your fingertips to your nose. When it’s someone of a much higher standing, or the elderly, touch your fingertips to your eyebrows. And finally, for monks and royalty, the wai would see you touching your fingertips to your hairline. Women would then do a curtsy, and men a bow. 

The 'wai' is an ubiquitous greeting in Thailand

The wai is serious business if you want to make a good impression, and international brands take notice. In Bangkok, spot Ronald McDonald greeting you with a wai during your morning McMuffin run!

France’s Cheeky Et Toc

It's the French 'I told you so!'

Imagine you’re having a full-blown argument with a Parisian. In case you turn out to be wrong (and somehow make it out alive with your dignity intact) then you might notice a smug look on their face as they flick their thumb towards you, followed by an “et toc!”. It’s the French equivalent of ‘gotcha!’ or ‘in your face!”, and is used between peers in informal situations.

When Korea Talks Money

Korean society can be conservative when discussing money

This gesture is most used by ahjussis (middle-aged or married men) in South Korea. The gesture, which looks like an OK sign being used horizontally, is used to indirectly talk about money. You might be in a situation where salary or price woes are being shared, but it’s not socially acceptable to refer to finances or any large sum. Think of a fine-dining restaurant when you’re cash strapped in a foreign country. An ahjussi might go “Ah yes, the food looks excellent, but…(does gesture)”

Brazil’s Sign for a Halfwit

Brazilians use this when you're not seen as the sharpest tool in the shed

If you’re testing a Brazilian’s patience to the point where they begin to doubt your mental faculties, they might slam their fist to their forehead. It’s unlikely they’d show this to an unsuspecting traveller, but if you see someone look at you and show this sign to another Brazilian, it’s a snide non-verbal remark. They’re saying your stupidity’s akin to trying to eat an ice cream cone with your forehead!

When Nonna’s Kitchen is Empty

This is the Italian way of saying there's nothing left for you

There’s a lot of stereotypes about the overly-dramatic Italian. Beyond the joined-fingers gesture we’re all familiar with, there’s of course one associated with food. Stretch your thumb and index finger out and shake it from side to side, and it’ll signify ‘there’s no more left’. While a nonna won’t ever send you away without a hearty meal, in the off chance that you arrive a little late and the food’s over, a young Italian might shake their head and show this sign in sympathy. 




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