Many innocent hand signs and other gestures in America can offend residents of another country or even give the complete opposite meaning from what was intended. Here is a quick guide of gestures, where they are okay to use and where they are not, to help you in your travels.

The Peace Sign

This particular hand gesture is not offensive when used correctly, but in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, giving someone the peace sign with the back of your hand facing them instead of the front is similar to showing them the middle finger in America.

Brushing Your Chin

Using the back of your hand to flick underneath your chin is rude in Belgium, Italy, and Tunisia, and it’s very offensive in France. To put it lightly, this sign means you are uninterested in having another person around or in hearing that person’s opinion.

Thumbs Up

Usually meant to show approval or happy feelings in the United States, the thumbs up means the rude expression “up yours” in Australia, Russia, Latin America, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, and should be avoided.

The “OK” Sign

This particular gesture in the United States means that things are good. In France, however, it suggests someone or something is worthless, and in Turkey, Greece, Spain, Venezuela, and Brazil, it has vulgar connotations and should be completely avoided.

Palm Out

This signal, with your palm toward another person and all five fingers stretched out, can mean “stop” or even the more rude “talk to the hand” in the United States. In Greece, Mexico, and the Middle East, it has ancient offensive origins from rubbing dirt and other filth onto convicts’ faces and is considered confrontational.

Nodding or Shaking Your Head

In the United States, people nod for agreement and shake their heads to say no. In Bulgaria, Albania, and Greece, the meanings are switched, so watch out for unintended confusion with this signal.


Crossing your legs in America is a common and even natural occurrence, but in India and other countries in South Asia, it can be very rude. In these countries, showing the bottom of your foot to someone, even while wearing shoes, is taboo because that is an unclean part of the body, so sitting with both feet on the floor is the safest option.

—Bethany Hailstone

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