Gestures to Avoid While Travelling

Travelling overseas is not all about anticipation, excitement and fun. Those things are a big part of it, but keep in mind too that you are going to a place that is new and strange to you. So while reading travel books or travel blogs to make an itinerary, learn the culture and the do’s and don’ts of your host country. That way, you can avoid offensive gestures.

Pantomiming and gestures become our go-to method while travelling especially if we don’t know the local language. We rely on our hands to communicate what our mouths cannot pronounce. Generally, it is amusing to see foreigners playing a real-life game of charades trying to communicate with locals. However, the reality is hand gestures are not universal and there are a few that could land you in trouble while overseas.

Thumbs Up

The hand gesture, made by closing the fist with the thumb extended upwards, means “awesome” or “good work” in the western world. But if you are in certain parts of the Middle East and Africa, you are actually saying “up yours”.

In Asia, the gesture means “keep going.”

The OK Sign

The OK sign, which is made by linking the thumb and the forefinger into an “o” shape, means “okay” or “perfect” in the USA and Australia. But it has different meanings around the world. In many countries in the Middle East, it is a threatening sign. In Turkey, it’s a derogatory way to refer to homosexuals. In other Mediterranean countries, the sign means “you’re an asshole”.


In many countries, it is offensive to point when asking for directions. Make sure you use an open hand when pointing to a direction.


We generally shake hands when we greet someone, or when we meet a person for the first time. Even this seemingly universal gesture of friendship has rules attached to it in certain countries. For example, do not use your left hand for shaking hands, eating or passing over an item in Muslim countries.

Our Muslim brothers consider the left hand unclean because this appendage should be exclusively used for bodily hygiene. And in Europe, take your gloves off first before shaking another person’s hand. The freezing temperature is no excuse.

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Have a fun and memorable holiday and a stress-free drive to your home when you return.