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Guide to gestures around the world

written by
Natasha Machado
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5 min
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When traveling to different countries, it's important to be aware that common gestures in our culture may have completely different meanings in other parts of the world. In this article, we're going to explore some of the most popular gestures and their various meanings, so you can avoid misunderstandings during your international travels.

The “bye” or “five” gesture

In Brazil, the United States, and Mexico, the open hand gesture raised and waved in the air is commonly used to say “bye”, “stop”, indicate the number five, or as a simple greeting. However, in countries like Greece, Pakistan, and some in East Africa, this same gesture can be interpreted as an insult or a curse, depending on the context.

It is essential to be aware of the meaning of gestures in different cultures, especially when traveling to a country for the first time. Researching local customs and traditions beforehand can help avoid embarrassing situations and demonstrate respect for the host culture.

The “little horn” sign and its multiple meanings

• Brazil and Italy: The popular “little horn” made with the index and minimum fingers can refer to a betrayed person, to the devil, or to rock'n roll.

• Venezuela: The gesture symbolizes luck.

• Texas (USA): Represents the supporter's support for the favorite team.

• Other countries: It may have a connotation of sexual insult or even protection against pests.

Figa and its cultural contrasts

The pussy gesture, made with the fingers crossed, has varied meanings around the world. In Brazil, the United States and Portugal, the fig is a symbol of good luck, wishing that everything will work out, or even of fertility. In Croatia, on the other hand, the gesture indicates something worthless or a “no”.

Surprisingly, in countries like China, Korea, Japan, Greece, Ukraine, Turkey, Indonesia, and Russia, the fig is considered an insult that hurts honor. And in places like the Netherlands and Tunisia, the gesture represents the male sexual organ, which can cause embarrassment if used inadvertently.

Other gestures and their unexpected meanings

1. Hand in pocket: In Japan, Mexico, France, and Indonesia, chatting with your hand in your pocket is considered rude, unlike in Brazil, where it's a common gesture.

2. V for victory: While in Brazil and in some countries the gesture represents joy, achievements, and peace, in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, the same inverted sign with the palm of the hand in is an offensive swear word.

3. “Joinha” with the thumb: The raised thumb can mean “all beauty” or a request for a ride in Brazil, the USA and some European countries. However, in China, Nigeria, Australia, Iran, Thailand, and Bangladesh, it is considered obscene, while in Turkey it indicates a gay line.

4. “OK” sign: In the USA, the index finger and thumb gesture in a circle means that something is fine, just like in Brazil, although here it can also have obscene connotations. In Japan it represents money, in France it indicates the number zero, in Germany it is offensive and in Turkey it suggests that someone is homosexual.

Preparing to travel

When making a University abroad it is important to be aware of the meanings of gestures can facilitate integration and communication with colleagues from different cultures.

Knowing the different meanings of gestures around the world is essential to avoid misunderstandings and to demonstrate respect for local cultures during your travels. In addition to researching beforehand about the customs and traditions of the countries you plan to visit, it's a good idea to write down the most common gestures and their meanings, to consult whenever necessary.

By preparing properly and being aware of cultural differences, you can enjoy a more enriching and embarrassment-free travel experience.


Traveling to different countries is an incredible opportunity to expand your horizons and discover new cultures. However, it is crucial to be aware of the meanings of the gestures in each place, to avoid misunderstandings and to show respect for local customs.

Be Easy

If you are planning an international trip and want to prepare yourself as best as possible, the Be Easy Exchange may help you. Our team of experts is ready to offer personalized advice, assisting in choosing the destination, organizing the trip and providing valuable tips on local culture. Contact us today and discover how we can make your experience abroad truly unforgettable. Don't let cultural differences stop you from exploring the world - with the Be Easy Exchange, you can travel with confidence and enjoy every moment of your journey!

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Natasha D`Angelo
Founder e CEO, Be Easy
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