Gestures To Be Aware Of While Travelin and/or Volunteering Abroad | Travel tip

Words represent your intellect. The sound, gesture and movement represent your feelings.” – Patricia Fripp.

Many people consider the spoken word as the main mode of communication around the world. We forget that non verbal communication also forms a large part of what we are saying to the person we are communicating with.

Different gestures mean different things across the world, what is acceptable in your home country like for instance handing someone an item using your left hand, may be considered a gesture showing disrespect in some parts of Africa. You therefore need to know how different symbols and gestures affect people.


There a great number of gestures widely used all around the world, all with their different meanings.

We start off with the thumbs up thumbs down sign. This is accepted around the world as a positive sign if the thumb is facing up, and a negative sign if the thumb is facing down.

The thumbs up sign in Iraq is a great insult, especially if the hand is thrust forward toward whoever the gesture is intended. The thumbs down sign may also mean execution in some parts of the world.


Another popular hand gesture around the world is the two fingers V sign. It’s most common uses are to indicate two; it may be used as the sign for peace, or even to mean victory. However in many parts of the world this sign may have some negative connotations.

For instance if the palm is facing the person making the sign then it can be an insult in some parts around the world like Ireland, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and South Africa, it basically means mind your own business. So be careful especially not to use it when asking for service for example to mean two of whatever you are ordering, in these countries.


People commonly use the  A -ok sign, mostly made popular by divers, it is done by making a circular sign with your thumb and index finger while the other three fingers stay stretched out. The sign is used mainly to say that everything is fine especially during a meal or in restaurants.

In some parts of Europe however, this symbol may mean that the person they are talking to is zero. In some parts of South America, the symbol might mean that you are calling the person an anus. In some countries including Germany the symbol might mean that you are calling someone a homosexual.


Some signs that people may carry out sub consciously are like the “Moutza”, this is basically stretching out your fingers to emphasize a point during conversation. It may look harmless especially to westerners.

But in Greece, doing so with your fingers stretched out may be interpreted as an insult and basically just leave you alone.


Finally we will look at the subconscious gesture mostly used as a sign of seduction in western countries, this is where a person uses their index finger to indicate ‘come here’, and this is done with the rest of the fingers folded into the palm as the index finger folds inwards.

In Philippines it is considered a dog call, and is used for strictly that, calling dogs. Using this gesture to call someone towards you there, may mean that you are calling them a dog. So wherever you are planning to travel or do your volunteer work, make sure you understand the hand gestures, to ensure you do not insult anyone.



Written and contributed by Zablon