9 innocent gestures that'll get you punched in the face overseas

Published On 11/06/2013 Published On 11/06/2013

Making yourself understood abroad can sometimes play out like an embarrassing game of charades. While your "Where's the bathroom?" might be Oscar-worthy at home, in Thailand you might've just told the hotel clerk you want to sleep with his wife. Or with him! What may seem like an innocent gesture here could have a completely different -- and possibly obscene -- meaning in another country. And to help you avoid offending anyone and/or getting yourself punched in the face, here are nine gestures to steer clear of.

Flickr: Hanumann

Gesture: Thumbs up (pt. 1)

What you think it means: "It's all good!"
What it means in Thailand: A serious side-eye (or similar). Some say it's very offensive, while others contend it's more childish than obscene, like sticking your tongue out. Best just to play it safe and keep your hands in your pockets.

The US Army

Gesture: Thumbs up (pt. 2)

What you think it means: "It's all good!"
What it means in Arabic countries: A thumbs up in any Muslim country pretty much means, loosely translated, that you hope the person you're gesturing at has a very pleasant trip to the proctologist.


Gesture: A "V" sign (with the palm facing inward)

What you think it means: "Peace, man!"
What it means in Great Britain and Australia: The equivalent of giving someone the middle finger, it's now clear why the television show "V" -- both the '80s original and the remake -- never made it Down Under.

Daniel Dionne

Gesture: An extended open palm

What you think it means: "Stop!" or "Talk to the hand!"
What it means in Greece: "I'd like to rub excrement in your face. No seriously, I'm going to crap in my hand right now, hold up". The meaning behind this rude gesture reportedly dates back to the Byzantine Empire, when citizens were encouraged to rub dookie in the faces of shackled prisoners. At least that's what the Internet says, and everyone knows the Internet doesn't lie.

David Boyle

Gesture: The "OK" (or "Rabbit", if you're making shadow animals on the wall)

What you think it means: "Everything's all good!"
What it means in Greece and Turkey: "You're a man, and you're attracted to other men". We see the letters "O" and "K", while they see a well-dressed dude who moisturizes and is well-versed in the works of Streisand.

Gisela Giardino

Gesture: Fingers crossed

What you think it means: "I hope everything turns out alright"
What it means in Vietnam: Vietnamese people think crossed fingers look like lady parts, so flashing this at someone is the equivalent of calling them the C-word. Speaking of which, how come when Irish dudes drop the C-bomb it sounds hilarious, and nobody seems to get offended?

Flickr: Jonathan Powell

Gesture: Hook 'em horns

What you think it means: "Rock on!"
What it means in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and Colombia: "You're so dense you don't realize your wife is cheating on you". Often done behind a guy's back rather than to his face, this gesture's a popular insult at soccer matches. Now, sadly, "Go Horns, Beat OU!" is forever tainted in your mind.

Clinton Steeds

Gesture: Beckoning arm wave

What you think it means: "Come here!"
What it means in Singapore: Death is coming. In the Philippines, however, it's a gesture fit only for dogs, and can actually land you in jail if you do it to a person. And not even a cushy jail like these.

US Navy

Gesture: Giving something with your left hand

What you think it means: "I'm giving you something... and I just happen to be using my left hand"
What it means in many parts of the world: In a lot of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, the left hand is strictly reserved for wiping one's @ss, while the right hand is used for just about everything else. So handing someone an item with your pooping hand's pretty inconsiderate -- who says lefties are smarter?

Yun Huang Yong

Gesture: Pat on the head

What you think it means: "You're so cute!"
What it means to anyone who's Buddhist: A fondle of the privates. Buddhists believe the top of the head is where the spirit lives, so patting the head is considered extremely inappropriate.