Gestures Around the World General Purpose: To inform Specific Purpose Statement: To inform my audience of the different meanings of specific gestures in certain countries or cultures. Central Idea: The thumbs up, v sign, and other gestures common in western culture may be offensive or not depending on where they are used. Method of Organization: Topical Introduction Imagine 20 years from now and you have finally achieved your childhood goal of becoming President of the United States. During your time in office you travel all over the world and meet many other world leaders.
So one time you travel to Iran to meet with the Iranian President. While eating at a high class restaurant with him a waitress asks how your food is and you reply with a quick thumbs up since your mouth is full and wouldn’t want it to seem rude. The waitress becomes appalled, paparazzi catch this moment on camera, it is circulated around the world, and riots begin all across Iran. Why, you may ask. A simple thumbs up could be the cause of an international incident if used in a country where its meaning is different.
According to the social anthropologist Edward Hall in the book Gestures: The Do’s and Taboos of Body Language Around the World, about 60% of communication is nonverbal. Hall also says that many of the gestures Americans use daily to convey quick messages or add emphasis to certain statements could be very offensive or have a totally different meaning in another part of the world. I have always wondered what American gestures meant other places and now after doing extensive research for this speech have found that I could travel the world and use gestures appropriately and not offend anyone.
Today we will explore the meanings of common gestures such as the thumbs up, “V” sign, and a couple of less commonly used gestures around the world and what they mean to the people who use them. (Transition: As I previously stated we will begin by discussing the thumbs up. ) Body The “thumbs-up” gesture is very well known and accepted as a positive signal meaning “good” or “great” in most of the western world. However, this common gesture can take on a completely different meaning depending on where you are in the world.
Here in the United States, a thumbs up usually is more enthusiastic meaning “good” or “great. ” According to according to Dr. Eileen Wibbeke in her book Global Business Leadership, in Iran, Iraq, and depending on the context in Australia an upward thumb is an obscene gesture, similar to our middle finger, or an insult. In Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean Sea and self governing region of Italy, the gesture is so offensive that you can get in serious trouble with the law, possibly ending up in jail time, for using it. Transition: Now that we understand the different interpretations a thumbs up, we will learn where and how a “V” sign is used. ) Around the world the gesture seen here can be offensive depending on where it is used and how it is presented. The main reason this gesture can become offensive is due to the way the palm is facing. According to The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, many people from Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and South Africa will view this gesture as offensive if the gesturers palm is facing toward them.
When used this way the people looking at the gesturer see the back of their hand, like this. The most famous example of the improper use of the “V” gesture was by President George Bush Sr. According to Webster Tarpley and Anton Chaikin in their book George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, in 1992 the president was on a trip in Australia and while riding in his limousine flashed this sign out the window with his palm facing toward him. He gave this gesture to some farmers who were protesting one of his policies.
He meant to give a peace sign but instead turned his hand the wrong way, basically “giving the finger” to all of the farmers. If the palm is facing outward is often accepted as it was used as a “V for Victory” in much of Europe or as a peace sign here in America. The most famous user of the “V for victory” was Winston Churchill during World War II. According to The British Postal Museum and Archive, Winston Churchill used this victory symbol with his palm facing either way. He began using it with his palm facing toward him and unknowingly making a rude gesture.
After he found out what he was doing he quickly switched his palm to facing out. (Transition: Now that we have looked at the most common gestures that are used improperly, we’ll explore some other less common ones that also have different meanings around the world. ) Some other commonly missed gestures include the ok gesture, the infamous middle finger, and the fig gesture which is uncommonly used in America. The ok gesture, shown here, also has varying implications. In the United States this gesture is most likely to be interpreted as meaning “okay. Peter Siljerud, an experienced world traveller and co-author of the book the Backpacker’s Toolbox, claims in his article “The Ok Hand Gesture Around the World,” that in Australia and France it is uncommon to use this but if used it would nearly always mean 0. In France it must be used carefully though because it can also mean that you believe someone is worthless according to Dr. Wibbeke. Also in France if it is placed over someones nose it can mean that the person is drunk.
Siljerd also claims that in Turkey and Venezuela the gesture means homosexual which can offend many people. Dr. Wibbeke also states that the gesture is considered very rude in Paraguay and obscene in Spain since there it has sexual connotations. When it comes to rude gestures here in America it is easy to see that the middle finger is the most commonly used one even though around the world it rarely even means anything. On the other hand, a rarely used gesture here in America, the “fig” gesture, seen here, can offend many people around the world.
Also according to Wibbeke, this gesture is generally offensive in much of Central America and some other various places such as Turkey It is particularly offensive in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua along with some Mediterranean countries. It is a phallic symbol and is therefore seen as inappropriate or offensive. However, in Brazil this gesture is a sign of good luck. (Transition: The significance and implications of many gestures differs from what we see them as in America. ) Conclusion In conclusion, we have looked at misuse of gestures, a very common mistake articularly when traveling to other parts of the world. We have seen how the thumbs up and “V” sign, along with various other gestures, can be taken differently based on where you are or how you present them. All of this simple information can really come in handy when traveling outside the United States. Knowledge of proper gesture use around the world could even help prevent an international incident like the one described in my introduction. Even if your not a political figure though, this simple knowledge can make for a more enjoyable trip when traveling around the world. Thank you.