Bill Gates recently triggered a huge uproar by shaking hands with the South Korean President Park Geun-hye with his left hand in his pocket. He seemed very casual in his attitude and was depicted as an act of disrespect. Every nation has such cultural quirks, and where a gesture is positive, in other places it might be highly offensive. Here’s some ‘popular’ ones.
Gesturing with your feet
Gesturing with your feet or touching anyone with them is considered extremely rude in some Southeast and South Asian cultures, as the feet are considered unclean and the lowest part of the body. Especially in Buddhism.
This one’s a bit complicated to comprehend. The moutza originates from ancient Byzantium where it was the custom for criminals to be chained to a donkey and displayed on the street. There, local townsfolk might add to their humiliation by rubbing dirt, feces, and ashes (moutzos in medieval Greek) into their faces. It could be precursor to shoving off a guy by pushing his face. Avoid doing this in Greece, Pakistan and parts of Africa.
This could be a worthy contender for the oldest, rudest insulting gesture, as the corna is said to date back 2,500 years. It is cool to do that at concerts: rockstars do that, head-swinging audiences reciprocate; even presidents do that: but please do not do that in Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Portugal or Spain, as it represents bull’s horns and means that your wife is unfaithful. Even Barack Obama cannot charm his way out of the mess he creates flashing a corna if he did it in one of the abovementioned countries.
You cannot do without the OK sign in underwater diving. That’s how you say that you are ‘OK’. When you savour a dish, you give the OK sign to let the chef know that it’s perfect. In Australia and Portugal, it could also mean zero. Well, not so everywhere. In Venezuela and Turkey, it is often associated with homosexuality. In Peru, it has the same sense, but the gesture is inverted. In Brazil, it is as offensive as showing the middle finger. In the Arab world, it is also used to convey threateningly, “You’ll see!”. The OK sign is not that OK as it seems.
In America and in parts of the world there is no better way to say something is perfect or something is accomplished. However, when you are lost for words to say that something is done, don’t try the thumps up in Greece, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia and several other places, as it means “up yours”. You might want to find another way to express your approval.
Meaning: Get lost. Brushing your hand under the chin in a forward flicking motion is called the chin flick. What’s the harm in that, one may ask? Do it in France, Belgium, France, Northern Italy, Tunisia and in all likelihood you will end up with a black eye. Chin flick in France is known as la barbe, or “the beard” and by that the idea expressed is that the gesturer is flashing his masculinity in much the same way that a buck will brandish his horns or a cock his comb.
Standing with your hands in your pockets
One thinks it is cool to slant onto a lamp-post, with your hands in your pockets and whistle when one is relaxed. Many movies espouse this theory. Also know this that you could also be mistaken to be perfectly idle along with a “I-don’t-give-a-damn-about-it” attitude. It is highly offensive in Japan and South Korea.