Thumbs down on the thumbs-up sign when you're traveling. This seemingly-innocuous gesture that means, "Great! I like it! All right!" in the U.S. has pretty awful meanings elsewhere. In the Middle East, for example, it means up your butt, fella. (Or worse.) Many, if not most, Latin Americans find it offensive, as do citizens of West Africa, Greece, Russia, Sardinia, the south of Italy, Australia, the Philippines and many Islamic nations. Phew! That's a lot of thumbs-up haters.
The gesture may have been popularized during World War II, when American pilots flashed the sign to their grounds crews to indicate they were good to go. But scholars believe it actually originated in ancient Rome when crowds used the "thumbs-up" sign to mean a gladiator should be speared or hid their thumbs if he should be spared. (Notice the negative meaning?) If you simply can't stop using this sign, know that you'll be all right in Germany and certain areas of Japan, where the thumbs-up sign simply indicates the number one [source: Koerner].
Author's Note: 10 Obscene Hand Gestures From Around the World
Note to self: Don't make any hand gestures when you travel. That's the best way to make sure you stay out of trouble.
More Great Links
- Astri-O'Reilly, Ana. "Hand gestures from around the world." Pocket Cultures. Sept. 14, 2011. (June 1, 2015) http://pocketcultures.com/2011/09/14/hand-gestures-different-cultures/
- Busch, Simon. "Innocent gestures that mean rude things abroad." NineMSN. (June 1, 2015) http://travel.ninemsn.com.au/world/rudegestures/835248/innocent-gestures-that-mean-rude-things-abroad
- Clark, Dave. "Tacaño ~ Spanish Gesture." e Learn Spanish Language. (June 5, 2015) http://www.elearnspanishlanguage.com/articles/gesture-tacano.html
- Expats Moving and Relocation Guide. "How to Use Effectively Nonverbal Communication When Relocating Overseas." (June 3, 2015) http://www.expats-moving-and-relocation-guide.com/nonverbal-communication.html/#sthash.UArdSsdz.dpbs
- Forbes, Sophie. "18 gestures that can get you into trouble outside the U.S." Yahoo Travel. March 24, 2015. (June 1, 2015) http://news.yahoo.com/18-gestures-that-can-cause-offense-around-the-world-232750431.html
- Google Books. "The Definitive Book of Body Language." (June 5, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=z5d_8bAyW8AC&pg=PA123&lpg=PA123&dq=americans+arrested+vatican+longhorns+sign&source=bl&ots=JLN1kB8JXA&sig=VgTN5A9cxcEgIfLbQICq1gynIgM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=GQdyVfDLFsaBygTk3oCoBg&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=americans%20arrested%20vatican%20longhorns%20sign&f=false
- Heddleston, Sara. "These 10 Gestures May Seem Innocent. But Do Them In The Wrong Place And You'll Get Punched In The Nose." Viralnova. March 9, 2014. (June 1, 2015) http://www.viralnova.com/rude-hand-gestures/
- Huffington Post. "The Guide to Hand Gestures Around the World." March 17, 2014. (June 1, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/17/the-global-guide-to-hand-_n_4956860.html
- Koerner, Brendan. "What Does a 'Thumbs Up' Mean in Iraq?" Slate. March 28, 2003. (June 17, 2015) http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2003/03/what_does_a_thumbs_up_mean_in_iraq.html
- Kruschewsky, Gabriela. "19 Simple Gestures That Might Be Highly Misunderstood Abroad." BuzzFeed. Oct. 15, 2013. (June 1, 2015) http://www.buzzfeed.com/gabrielakruschewsky/simple-gestures-that-might-be-highly-misunderstood-abroad#.alGbaGG89W
- Language Trainers. "The Top 10 Hand Gestures You'd Better Get Right." Sept. 24, 2007. (June 5, 2015) https://www.languagetrainers.co.uk/blog/2007/09/24/top-10-hand-gestures/
- Link, Matthew. "Dangerous Body Language Abroad." Aol Travel. July 26, 2010. (June 5, 2015) http://news.travel.aol.com/2010/07/26/dangerous-body-language-abroad/
- Marchetti, Silvia. "Italian hand gestures everyone should know." CNN. May 29, 2015. (June 1, 2015) http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/29/travel/experts-guide-to-italian-hand-gestures/
- Mezcua, Jorge. "Diving signs you need to know." For Divers. Sept. 12, 2013. (June 3, 2015) http://www.fordivers.com/en/blog/2013/09/12/senales-de-buceo-que-tienes-que-conocer/
- Mughal, Khabir Uddin. "Top 10 Fastest Bowlers in the History of Cricket." Sporteology. March 17, 2015. (June 5, 2015) http://sporteology.com/top-10-fastest-bowlers-in-the-history-of-cricket/
- Nicar, Jim. "The Hook 'em Horns Hand Sign." Texas Exes. (June 5, 2015) https://www.texasexes.org/uthistory/traditions.aspx?tradition=hookem
- Peters, Harry. "Rude Hand Gestures from Around the World." Visually. (June 1, 2015) http://visual.ly/rude-hand-gestures-around-world
- Steves, Rick. "Understanding European Gestures." Rick Steves. (June 6, 2015) https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/sightseeing/european-gestures
- Symbol Dictionary. "Mano Fico (Fig Gesture)." (June 5, 2015) http://symboldictionary.net/?p=1422
- Telegraph. "Rude hand gestures of the world." Telegraph. (June 5, 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/8788932/Rude-hand-gestures-of-the-world.html?image=8
- The New York Times. "What's A-O.K. in the U.S.A. Is Lewd and Worthless Beyond." Aug. 18, 1996. (June 1, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/1996/08/18/weekinreview/what-s-a-ok-in-the-usa-is-lewd-and-worthless-beyond.html
- Weeks, Linton. "Is 'Giving The Finger' Getting Out Of Hand?" National Public Radio. Aug. 26, 2010. (June 3, 2015) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129400312
Some people get anxious about opening a gift in front of the giver in case they don't like it. HowStuffWorks looks at gift-giving etiquette.