The International Language of Gestures

We take most of the gestures we make every day for granted: nodding means “yes”, shaking your head means “no”, a thumb up means “OK”, etc. But are they universal? Will people from other regions, countries, cultures understand what you mean when making these gestures?

The answer is no.

A while back, I wrote a post about counting with your fingers, commenting another post by Alex Barnett. Based on the comments received by Alex’s post you can already conclude that people around the world use their fingers in different ways to represent numbers. What about other gestures?

Well, I just read this article: Why do we nod our heads for “yes” and shake them for “no”?

They talk about how things as simple as saying “yes” or “no” can be represented by different gestures around the world, even though nodding and shaking your head is almost universal.

Other gestures, however, such as the “thumbs up” can have several different meanings. Depending on cultures and, of course, context it can mean:

  1. OK,
  2. number 1,
  3. give me a ride, :)
  4. or “screw you”

You can see that, if you’re not careful, not knowing what the gesture you’re making means can get you in quite a lot of trouble. I’m thinking of the hitchhiker (meaning 3) walking on a Greek (meaning 4) road giving drivers the “thumbs up” :P