by Maria Ampelourgou
With Christmas just around the corner, many of you might be considering spending winter holidays abroad, getting to explore new destinations and festive customs. I can picture you flipping through the pages of colourful travel guides right now, seeking the absolute travelling experience. Nevertheless, in order to make the most of your excursion, it is always a good idea to dare to straddle off the beaten tourist track and try to interact with local people. If this sounds like something you would enjoy, let me offer you a piece of advice that you probably won’t find amongst the highlights in your tour guide.
In case you are visiting a country and you hardly know how to greet people in their own language, it is highly likely that body language and gestures will take over in your attempt to make sense. You might have heard about typical gestures and their distinctive (often offensive) meaning in different cultures, but there is a whole lot more to this than you could possibly imagine. Would you risk severely offending someone in Australia while simply posing for a touristic photo? Likewise, would you enjoy the prospect of mocking local people in Thailand when all you wanted to do was show them your approval?
Good will and common sense, here, dictates that you would not. Nevertheless, there is no need to get discouraged. Just take a look at these enlightening tips and think twice about location before engaging in different forms of gesticulation.
Let us start with the basics:
The “Peace Sign”
Whoever claims that he or she has never posed for a photo making the typical “V” shape with their index and middle finger should probably dust off their old photo albums and reconsider. However, you might want to pass on that one when finding yourselves somewhere in Australia, since the “peace sign” is not likely to keep things peaceful there for long. You should know that, when pulled with the palm facing inwards, the “V” sign is highly offensive and you should probably avoid it among Australians, this goes for British people too!
“Thumbs Up” in Thailand
A fairly popular way of expressing one’s approval, this one. Nevertheless, this gesture constitutes a sign of mockery according to Thai values, although the locals have probably grown to accept it over the years, Thailand being a highly touristic destination.
“Talk to the hand” or the Greek “Moutza”
An all time favourite this one—well, I cannot be too objective here, being Greek and everything. If you are planning on visiting Greece for your Christmas holidays, you should know that Greeks do not really appreciate an open palm with extended fingers projected to their face. It is an offensive gesture that dates back to past times and is commonly known as the “moutza”. If you look out for it, you will probably witness a lot of “moutza” going on in busy streets during peak times, as Greeks can get a bit restless when driving.
And now for the unforeseen:
Handling things with one hand in Japan
I suppose most of us do not think when we need to hold objects that are being handed to us. Think twice and give and receive with both hands when in Japan, since doing otherwise might appear dismissive on your part.
Use of hand while eating
This one is about hands as well, and is something most of us do not pay much attention to either. Most people would not care less about what hand to use when putting food in their mouth, but in Malaysia, your left hand is reserved for purposes that put eating out of the question…
I hope this list has offered you a new insight on how communication might get confused if language is isolated from the given cultural context.
Do not worry too much, though. Lingua Translations is here to help you with your linguistic concerns. Why not take a look at our language pages to find more information about the countries and languages we work with?