top of page
  • Uncommon Journeys

“Handy” Advice for World Travelers

When traveling abroad, be aware of seemingly innocent hand gestures that could be misconstrued or unintentionally offensive.

Throughout much of the world, the second and third fingers are a declaration of peace or victory, but in the UK, making the gesture with the palm of your hand facing inward is considered a taunt, and could provoke a scuffle.

The thumbs-up is a good thing in America, but in Brazil and some Middle Eastern cultures, it “describes a malodorous body part," according to travel blogger Talek Nantes.

The shaka, or "hang loose" sign (thumb and pinky up, other 3 fingers down) is the friendliest of gestures in Hawaiian and surf cultures, but it invites trouble in some European countries. It resembles horns, which symbolizes a husband with an unfaithful wife.

In most western cultures, patting a child’s head is an affectionate gesture, but hands off in Thailand! it’s a serious offense, because the head is considered the most sacred part of the body.

Lefties pay heed when traveling in India or the Middle East. Use your right hand to eat, pass money or objects, or pick up a vendor’s wares. The left hand is reserved for unhygienic tasks, such as cleaning yourself after using the toilet.

In Taiwan, pointing at the moon will incur the wrath of the moon goddess, who will mete out her punishment by cutting off your ear.

Disney park employees are trained to point with two fingers, because pointing with the index figure is considered rude in Malasia. An acceptable alternative is to point with your thumb, which ironically is considered profane in Iran.

In the Philippines, summoning with a single finger is appropriate for dogs, but demeaning to humans.

Crossing your fingers for good luck is asking for trouble in Viet Nam, where it depicts a woman’s genitalia.

This is, hands down, some of the most practical advice we can give to avoid a cultural faux pas.

bottom of page