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The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries

By Max. D Gray. Updated: August 10, 2017
The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries

We can make countless gestures using our fingers which, depending on the country we come from, can have a different meaning in another. It helps to know what these gestures mean so as to not surprise anyone by using them in another country. For this reason, this oneHOWTO article will explain what some of these hand gestures mean.

You may also be interested in: What are each of your fingers called?

Thumbs up

This gesture goes back to Ancient Roman times. It is believed that thumbs up was used in gladiator combats to express that the defeated gladiator should be saved in opposition to thumbs down which expressed the desire to execute the gladiator.

This gesture has survived many years and is now used in most western countries where thumbs up means we are stating that everything is okay. However, this gesture does not mean the same thing everywhere. In some countries like Russia, Germany or France it is also commonly used to express number one.

In the Middle East it is better to avoid using this gesture because it means that you are telling the person you are doing it to stick it where the sun doesn't shine.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Thumbs up

Putting your thumb and index finger of one hand together

This symbol's original meaning was a-OK and NASA was one of the first to use it to describe that everything has gone to plan.

This gesture has evolved to mean perfect, but in some countries it has completely different meanings:

In Germany and Brazil it is a very obscene gesture, in Japan it means money and in France it usually means zero or useless. In Arab countries this is also an offensive gesture and can be quite offensive.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Putting your thumb and index finger of one hand together

Raising the index and middle fingers of a hand into a V

This gesture was commonly used in World War II by the Allies to symbolize victory. During the sixties, this gesture was adopted as a symbol of peace by activists against the Vietnam war and other counter-cultural movements.

It is now used for both meanings and is very common to be used by many people posing on a photograph as a friendly gesture, especially among Japanese people.

For more extended information, take a look at our article on the meaning of two fingers.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Raising the index and middle fingers of a hand into a V

Raising your index and middle finger into a V with the palm inward

In the previous section we explained that the V sign means victory or peace. But watch out! If you do this sign upside down, i.e. with the palm facing you, in the UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand it is an insult meaning "f*** you".

This gesture first got this meaning in the UK, is also known as the "two-fingered salute" and has been widely used against authority.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Raising your index and middle finger into a V with the palm inward

Pointing something out with a finger

This gesture is bad manners all around the world. Although sometimes hard to avoid, doing it is very bad manners. However, pointing a finger has a meaning in different countries too.

In the Middle East and Far East use the index and middle fingers together or the whole hand to point something out.

In the USA it can be a friendly gesture that can mean "you're cool" when doing this gesture to someone you're talking to directly and in a friendly fashion.

On the other hand, in Chinese culture pointing is actually a gesture that signifies the number eight.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Pointing something out with a finger

Ask someone to come towards you with a finger

In most countries it is considered insulting to ask someone to come towards you like this. In the USA, however, it simply means "come here", and has no other connotation. In the Philippines this gesture is liable to arrest and is used to call dogs and prostitutes.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Ask someone to come towards you with a finger
Image: elpais.com

Raising your index finger and little finger to make horns

This gesture's origin is found in India to symbolize the expulsion of demons. In many Mediterranean countries this symbol was also used (and in some region still is) to get rid of bad omens and situations.

Nowadays it has several meanings around the world:

In Spain and Italy this means that your partner is cheating on you.

For fans of heavy metal it means "What's up?"

In some parts of Africa it is a curse.

In some pagan cults this is also a symbol of the God Wicca.

In the USA it is the symbol of the University of Austin in Texas and means "Hook'em Horns"; meaning stab them horns, referring to the Texas bulls.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Raising your index finger and little finger to make horns
Image: elpais.com

Lifting the thumb and little finger

This gesture called a shaka sign is typical in Hawaii and in places where there's a surf and beach culture. Sometimes the hand is moved to emphasize the gesture. Its meaning is"relax".

In Spain, North America, Ecuador, Chile, Russia and Germany this same sign but bringing the thumb to the mouth means drink because it is reminiscent of the shape of a glass.

However, in China it can also mean number six.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Lifting the thumb and little finger

Pointing or looking at your wristwatch

Looking at your wristwatch during a conversation is considered to be rude if done during a conversation, as it may be considered a sign of boredom, especially in Middle Easter countries, where the meaning of this hand gesture signifies being in a hurry or having to go somewhere.

On the other hand, in Arab countries, it means to take your time.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Pointing or looking at your wristwatch

Fingers crossed

In most countries crossing your fingers is a sign of good luck, in many countries, as it was historically a sign of protection against evil in Catholic countries. However, crossing your fingers can also signify a white lie, especially when trying to hide the hand this means that you are lying during a conversation.

In Vietnam, it is extremely rude to cross you fingers as a hand gesture, as it is representative of female genitalia.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Fingers crossed

Putting your fingers together

Last on our list of hand gestures in different country is putting your fingers together. You may know if for the most popular Italian hand gesture. Although they basically use it when they are incredulous about something, when you are gestured in such a way it may also mean "What do you want?".

However, there are other meanings to this hand gesture in different countries. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is a sing to show you want a small amount of something. Meanwhile, in Turkey it is a positive sign meaning everything is well or that something is pretty. In Egypt it means that you won't take long to do something.

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries - Putting your fingers together

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries, we recommend you visit our Family health category.

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4 comments
William Timmons / former Peace Corp volunteer / Niger
To point your open hand & outstretched arm toward someone, (as if to say halt! ) indicates, "F*** you! " Be careful how you wave at a person in West Africa.
Been there; done that.!
Wyrmsworth
In the US, my Father (from his army days) said that the Index Finger and Little Finger meant "What you are saying is a lot of BullSh*t" The Fingers as horns and a downward hand movement.
Conto
The thumb between the index- and middle finger in the fist form in Russia mean the same thing as the middle finger in America
OneHowTo Editor
Hi Conto,

Thank you for adding this info!
Steve
pinky finger in china mean the exact same thing as middle finger in america

The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries
Image: elpais.com
Image: elpais.com
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The Meaning of Hand Gestures in different Countries

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