When words fail for travelers around the world experiencing a language barrier, body language usually takes their place. After all, body language is universal, so what can go wrong?
Plenty can go wrong actually, because as many travelers and tourists learn the hard way, many common signs and hand gestures have completely different meanings in different parts of the world due to cultural differences.
These are eight common signs and gestures that are considered offensive by some people in some countries around the Middle East due to different cultural backgrounds within the region, even though they have completely innocent meanings in other places. While exposure to foreigners have made many of these acceptable in most places, depending on where you visit, they can still carry the offensive meaning. Future travelers, take notes.
1. The Thumbs Up
While you might be thinking thumbs up shows approval, real life is not like Facebook. In parts of the Arab world, the gesture is considered highly offensive, its impact is equivalent to the middle-finger in the West.
2. Pointing with the index finger
Even if you don't mean anything negative by it, pointing at someone or something with only one finger is considered very rude and impolite in parts of the Middle East. Many people interpret it as if you're singling them out or making fun of them.
3. Crossing legs
Crossing your legs in parts of the Middle East, especially if you're sitting opposite from someone who is older than you, is considered a sign of disrespect. It can be interpreted as a sign of arrogance and defiance when done in front of people who hold a higher social or professional position such as parents and superiors.
4. The Fig (Forming a fist with the thumb tucked under the index finger)
While this is used in playing the "got your nose" game with children, it is considered very offensive in Turkey as it's also the equivalent of the middle-finger.
5.The Moutza (Open palm)
Displaying your open palm in front of someone's face is highly offensive in parts of the Middle East, the gesture is believed to have originated during Byzantine times when it was used to shame criminals.
6. Greeting someone with your left hand
Greeting someone in the Middle East with the left hand is considered highly offensive by many, as is giving them something with the left hand and eating with the left hand. It is commonly believed that the left hand is unclean and devilish.
7. Checking your watch
Looking at your watch while talking to someone in some of the Arab World, even if it's a casual or short conversation, is considered rude and disrespectful as it can be interpreted to mean you don't want to be having this conversation.
8. The "OK"
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
The sign is considered very insulting in Turkey and in some other Middle Eastern countries – such as Kuwait – where it denotes the evil eye.