How Well Do You Know Hand Gestures From Around the World?

John Miller

In Italy, what does it mean if you bring all of your fingers together and flick your wrist in beckoning motion?

It's a common gesture in the Italian community. Bring your fingers together and flick your wrist to convey, "What is this?" or "What is going on here?"

True or false: Is the thumbs up gesture a universal sign of goodwill and victory?

The thumbs up is a rousing show of positivity in a lot of countries. In places like Latin America and the Middle East, however, it's the exact opposite.

In the Philippines, if you have your palm up and your move your index finger in a beckoning gesture, what are you indicating?

In America, you can use the curling index finger to beckon to people, but in the Philippines, this gesture is insulting to humans. It's meant just for dogs.

In America, what does it mean if you raise your index and middle fingers in a "V" shape?

The V-for-victory sign is an extremely common American gesture. You'll see it frequently at rock concerts and political rallies.

If you're in Ghana and you scratch the palm of your left hand with your right index finger, what are you referring to?

If someone owes you money in Ghana, this is the gesture you'd use. You point to your left palm and scratch with your finger.

If you put the back of your fist to your forehead in Brazil, what are you conveying?

You might sigh or groan loudly when you bring the back of your fist to your forehead in Brazil. It's a negative gesture that means someone or something is dumb.

In Ghana, if you orient your palm downward and flap your hand, what do you mean?

Ghana's "come here" signal is opposite of the American version. In Ghana, you orient your palm downward as you make a flapping gesture.

In the U.S., if you point your palm to the ground and flip your hand, what are you doing?

"Shoo dog! We're tired of you pooping in our flower bed!" In America, the palm-down, flapping hand is a shooing gesture.

Put your hand in front of your face and wave it back and forth. What did you just communicate to a German?

Wave your hand in front of your face and scowl at someone in Germany, and the intent is clear -- you're indicating that you think they're crazy.

In America, the "horn fingers" sign (with index and pinky finger extended) means what?

The horned fingers make appearances at live music performance across the country. It basically means "rock on!"

In places like Colombia or Spain, the "horn fingers" gesture means what, exactly?

In America, the horn fingers gesture is a good thing. In Spain and Colombia, it's a way to tell someone that their wife is sleeping around on them.

If you're in Nepal and you rotate your forearm from side to side, what are you indicating?

This is the Nepalese version of shaking your head "no" in the West. Hold your arm up at the elbow and rotate your forearm back and forth.

True or false: Is the American version of the "V for victory" sign interpreted similarly in the United Kingdom?

In America, raising your index and middle fingers in a "V" is a sign of victory and triumph. In the United Kingdom, though, it's a way to show scorn to the authorities.

If you cross your fingers in Australia, what are you doing?

As in the U.S., in Australia, crossing your fingers is a way to hope for good luck.

In France, what does it mean if you touch your face below your eye using your index finger?

Don't believe what that Frenchman is saying? Touch the spot just below your eye with your index finger to communicate that you think he's lying.

If you're in Russia and you pull your thumb across your throat, what do you mean?

No, you're not plotting to cut someone's throat if you make this thumb/throat gesture. It does, however, mean that you've had enough.

If you pinch all of your fingers together and move your hands up in and down in unison, what are you conveying in Mexico?

Bringing your fingers together on each hand and then moving your hands up and down in Mexico is a sign that someone is being cheap.

If you push your index finger into your cheek in Italy, what are you communicating about your meal?

In Italy, where there is a lot of delicious food, you'll be pushing your index finger into your cheek a lot. It means you're enjoying your meal.

If you're in America and you bump fists with someone, what does it indicate?

It's like a handshake but shows that you're, like, cool, man. The fist bump is a widely recognized way to greet someone in America.

In Spain, if you hold your hands and raise them up and down as if you're carrying a heavy object, what do you mean?

Some people are just lazy, dead weight. That's what the "carrying" gesture means in Spain.

If you flick your chin with your fingers in Belgium or France, what are you telling someone to do?

Flicking your chin with your fingers is a dismissive gesture in Belgium and France. It basically means someone should get lost.

If you raise your arm with your palm toward your face in Mexico, what are you saying?

In Mexico, just raise your arm with your palm toward your face. It's a simple and friendly gesture that says "thank you."

True or false: In Brazil, is it a good thing to flash the "OK" sign using your index finger and thumb?

In America (and other Western countries) the OK sign is, well, A-OK. In Brazil, it's a very rude gesture that you'd only use in extreme anger.

If you place your hand on your heart in China, what are you indicating?

In China, you can project sincerity by placing your hand over your heart. Don't eat chicken feet, they taste funky.

In Russia, if you flick your throat with your index finger, what do you mean?

Russians drink occasionally. If a Russian flicks his or her throat with an index finger, perhaps it's time to open a bottle.

If you stick your hand straight out at someone in Greece, what mentality are you projecting?

In Greece, sticking your hand straight out at someone means you're being confrontational. It may also insult the recipient.

In Germany, if you tap your finger on your forehead, what do you mean?

Germans have multiple gestures for saying someone is crazy. Pointing at their foreheads with an index finger is one of them.

If a Japanese person flashes a "V" sign with both hands during a picture-taking session, what are they expressing?

Many Japanese people are a bit hesitant to smile for pictures. But they'll often flash two "V" signs with their fingers to show that they're having a blast.

In America, if you put your thumb in your fist and pull it away from a child's face, what are you pretending?

The thumb-in-fist gesture is a playful one. It means that you're pretending that you stole a kid's nose. Pro tip: This one gets old to kids after about age 5.

What is the "awkward turtle"?

The awkward turtle is a newer gesture that's common among young Americans and it is used to deflect attention from an embarrassing situation. Put your palms down, fingers together, thumbs stuck out, and make a swimming motion with your thumbs … that's the awkward turtle.

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Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Some researchers say that body language accounts for more than 50% of human communication. The thing is, body language is anything but universal. Do you know what these gestures from around the world mean?

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