10 Hand Gestures You Should Know When Traveling

Your tickets are bought. Your bags are packed, then re-packed. You have an itinerary, a passport, and maybe a travel partner. Or maybe you're throwing five things in a backpack at the last minute and booking it out of town. Regardless of your travel methodology (or lack thereof), the excitement of some time away from the daily grind is supremely enticing. When you travel the world, you should feel privileged to experience new sights, sounds, food. Breathe the local culture with a deep inhale. Make some new friends. A word of advice, though: make sure that you've done appropriate research on interpersonal nuances. Some things back home don't mean the same things abroad. For example, body positioning and hand gestures. Here you'll find the 10 most important hand gestures to know when traveling. Bon voyage!

  1. Thumbs Up

    Want to piss off a former Soviet? In most of the Western world, the thumbs up is an informal way to signal a positive response. or indicates something positive. But, watch out. In Russia, Latin America, Greece, the Middle East, and parts of Africa, the thumbs up is basically the equivalent of the middle finger. Word to the wise: learn how to say "thank you" and "good job" in the language of whatever country you're planning to visit.

  2. Moutza

    Your palms are open toward your listener and you make an "L" shape with your thumbs. Be your fingers together or extended, this is called the moutza. In parts of Western Europe, Pakistan, and Africa, this seemingly benign gesture is an ancient insult, and one of the most crass hand signals possible. Not only dismissive, but also implying that your target should eat excrement and/or suggesting that you have some creative ideas on ways to bed your listener's sister, the moutza is a particularly rude insult to dish out. Be mindful of your hand position when gesticulating wildly, especially at parties, and especially in Greece, from where the moutza originates.

  3. Two-Finger Tap

    Heading to the Pyramids? Be mindful of the two-finger tap. When tapping your two index fingers together, make sure that your target is someone super sexy. In Egypt, this gesture indicates the desire to have sex. No one's saying there's a darn thing wrong with illicit, 'round-the-world nooky, just make sure that you don't flash this sign unless you're willing to actually, um, tap that.

  4. Come Hither

    You want to beckon your conversation partner closer, perhaps intending to be sexually suggestive. You make what you believe to be an international hand sign for "come closer" – stretching your index finger toward your new friend then curling it toward you. Sounds like the start of a bad romance novel. In the Philippines, however, this gesture is so nasty that it warrants arrest. In most countries it's considered somewhat obscene. When traveling abroad, you'd probably be better off using a simple wave.

  5. Sake Circle

    Here's one that won't get you arrested, killed, or even beaten up. If you're traveling in Japan, the best way to ask someone to accompany you for a drink is to pantomime a traditional sake cup. First make a fist, then extend your thumb and index finger out to create a small circle, and you'll be hobnobbing in a rice wine haze in no time flat.

  6. The Corna

    Listen up, sports fans! The corna, meaning horns, has both positive and negative connotations worldwide. When disagreeing with a football (soccer) referee during the World Cup, flashing the corna – the American sign for "heavy metal," made commonly popular by Rodney James Dio and the University of Texas – suggests that the ref's wife is unfaithful. In Hindu and Buddhist culture, however, an identical gesture is called the Karana Mudra, and symbolizes the exorcism of demons.

  7. Flipping the Bird

    This one you should already know. Perhaps the only truly universal hand gesture, in certain parts of the Middle East, feel free to accomplish your same non-verbal communique with the upwards thrust of the index finger. Here's hoping that you, dear traveler, are a more worldly person than some, and elect not to use this gesture in favor of international civility.

  8. V for…Victory?

    More like V for Vendetta! An Anglo-Saxon hand sign deriving from the Middle Ages, Winston Churchill and, later, Richard Nixon appropriated the index and middle-fingered gesture as a symbol for victory in their respective popular cultures. It may look like a backwards peace sign, but on the streets and sports arenas of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, expect neither peace nor victory as a response to this gesture. When traveling the world, avoid ordering two drinks with this sign for "shove it," instead opting again for a wave and a smile.

  9. Sticking Out Your Tongue

    Not exactly a hand gesture, but included in this list because no one wants you getting arrested in Italy. In late 2009, an appeals court in Italy ruled that sticking your tongue out at a person with whom you are arguing is so insulting that it ought to be, and indeed now is, illegal. But hold out hope, ye traveling tonguers! And maybe book a ticket to Tibet instead. For Tibetans, this gesture is considered a friendly greeting. Make sure to indicate your understanding of such, or diffuse an argument in Italy, by accompanying this gesture with a cheeky smile.

  10. Chin Flick

    You'd think that a reasonable facsimile of the American Sign Language gesture for "thank you" wouldn't resemble so closely a common European symbol for "f— you," but you'd be wrong. Other than a smile, there really is no universal signal for "thank you." Skip the sign language savvy when traveling abroad, as you may offend someone. Or an entire street gang of someones. This doesn't end well for you. Always be as polite as possible, and attempt to learn a few basic niceties in your destination language, per favore.