Have you ever thought about how much communication is non-verbal? From body language to tone of voice, the way we express ourselves goes way beyond the words we use.
A huge part of that non-verbal communication across cultures and countries is hand gestures—those movements and symbols we make to emphasize or clarify our statements and emotions, or sometimes to words altogether.
If you’ve ever traveled or have spent time with people from a different culture, you may have noticed that hand gestures vary. A gesture that someone from Italy might use regularly may be completely foreign to someone from Japan.
Below, we’ll look at a list of 18 common hand gestures and their meanings. You might just find these useful on your next vacation!
- Argentina: “Be careful”
- Brazil: “It’s just gossip”
- China: “Thank you”
- France: “It’s easy”
- Germany: “Good luck”
- India: “Warm regards”
- Italy: “Delicious”
- Japan: “I/me”
- Korea: “I love/appreciate you”
- Mexico: “A lot”
- Peru: “Without money”
- Philippines: “Can I have the bill?”
- Poland: “That will never happen”
- Portugal: “The food is very good”
- Russia: “Let’s get a drink”
- Spain: “Do you get it?”
- Thailand: “That’s right”
- Turkey: “It’s good”
1. Argentina: “Be careful”
In Argentina, if you want to tell someone to be careful or watch out for their surroundings, just put your index finger below your eye and gently pull down.
2. Brazil: “It’s just gossip”
If you hear someone spreading stories that aren’t true, you can tap the underside of your jaw with the back of your hand. This signifies that what they’re saying is just gossip.
3. China: “Thank you”
Want to express thanks in China? Rest the palm of one hand on the fist of your other hand and give a slight bow.
4. France: “It’s easy”
Picture it: You’re talking to someone from France, complaining about a difficult task. If they disagree with you, they might hold up two fingers toward their nostrils, meaning “It’s as easy as this!”
5. Germany: “Good luck”
If you’d like to wish someone luck in Germany, don’t cross your fingers. Instead, you need to press your thumbs (enclose them in your fists).
6. India: “Warm regards”
In India, you might see someone pressing their palms together as they greet you. It’s a sign of acceptance, warm regards and respect.
7. Italy: “Delicious”
Want to convince an Italian child that they should try their tasty dinner? Try pushing your index finger into your cheek to express that the food is delicious.
8. Japan: “I/me”
If you notice a Japanese person pointing at their nose while you’re chatting with them, it’s because they’re referring to themselves. It means “I” or “me.”
9. Korea: “I love/appreciate you”
A popular hand gesture in Korea to express love or appreciation is the finger heart, made by putting your thumb and index finger together in a kind of “x” that looks like a heart.
10. Mexico: “A lot”
In Mexico, to convey that there’s a lot of something, join all five fingers together and then shake your hand. You can use one hand or both hands for this one.
11. Peru: “Without money”
If you see someone from Peru press their index finger to their neck, they’re referring to someone who doesn’t have a lot of money—known as aguja, or “without money.”
12. Philippines: “Can I have the bill?”
When you’re finished with your meal in a restaurant in the Philippines, ask the server for the bill by making eye contact and making the shape of a rectangle with your hands.
13. Poland: “That will never happen”
In Poland, if someone tells you something you don’t believe, try pointing to your palm with your index finger. This means “A cactus would sooner grow on my hand”—in other words, “That will never happen.”
14. Portugal: “The food is very good”
If you’re enjoying a particularly tasty meal in Portugal, pinch your earlobe and shake it gently while raising your eyebrows. This shows that you think the food is very good.
15. Russia: “Let’s get a drink”
Maybe it’s been a long week and you’re ready to relax and unwind. Tilt your neck to the side slightly and flick it with your forefinger and thumb. This signifies that you’d like to go get a drink with someone.
16. Spain: “Do you get it?”
If a Spanish person wants to check that you understand something they said (a joke, for instance), they might hold out their finger and thumb, as though they’re holding a very small item, and make a gentle twisting motion.
17. Thailand: “That’s right”
To signify that someone is correct, people in Thailand hold up their index finger and thumb in the shape of a checkmark.
18. Turkey: “It’s good”
In Turkey, if someone wants to express that they think something—food, an object, etc.—is good, they hold their fingers and thumb together.
Learn common gestures to express yourself
Knowing the meanings of different finger gestures can be super helpful, especially when you’re speaking to people from different cultures. Try learning some common hand gestures so you can communicate smoothly wherever you go!
Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.