Some handy precautions
The last thing you want to do when traveling to a new country is to offend the locals. While this may seem easy enough to avoid doing, sometimes cultural differences can make even simple hand gestures get lost in translation. For instance, in some parts of the world, motions as well-intentioned as a pointing finger are seen as insulting. Here are several hand gestures you probably make all the time that are demeaning in other countries.
What might seem to us like a universally positive gesture is not, in fact, universal. “Unfortunately, in Iran and neighbouring countries like Afghanistan, the thumbs-up is equivalent to the middle finger!” explains Dana Hooshmand, an author for Discover Discomfort, a language- and culture learning resource. While for us, the middle finger is the profane one; in Iran, it’s the thumb. Though it’s certainly good to have this knowledge, and you should try your best to avoid making any offensive gestures, Hooshmand assures that you likely won’t incur any real wrath if you slip up. “Political tensions notwithstanding, the vast majority of everyday Iranians are gregarious, worldly, and educated and are more amused than offended if a visiting [foreigner] makes an innocent mistake,” he told Reader’s Digest.
Malaysia: Pointing with your index finger
As a little kid, you may have been chastised that “it’s rude to point!” especially if you dared pair the gesture with laughter. But, while it can be inconsiderate in certain circumstances around the world, an index-finger point is always rude in Malaysia. As a matter of fact, because it can be offensive in some cultures, employees at Disney parks are actually trained to avoid pointing with their index fingers. Instead, if they must point to something, they use two fingers. At Disney, that is – actually in Malaysia, the common alternative is to point with your thumb (particularly your right thumb).