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Hand Gestures and Misunderstandings

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by Poetic Device, Oct 20, 2006.

  1. Poetic Device

    Poetic Device Senior Member

    New Jersey
    English, USA
    Recently I was talking to a friend that is from England, and the convorsation got a little heated. I told her "time out" and made what I considered the hand gesture for time out (holding out one hand horizontally and one hand vertically while the middle finger of the horizontal hand is touching the palm of the vertical hand -| ). Apparently, this in England, or whatever town she is from, means basically "up yours". First of all, I am wondering if this is true or just her way to try to win an argument. The second question is has anything like this ever happened to any person here and if so what was it? TIA <3
     
  2. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    Is this not just a "T" a symbol, stemming from either Basketball or American Football? These are not internationally followed sports and their semiology might not be as understood as you might think.


    I don't believe her. "Up your's" is either a raised middle finger with all the other fingers folded inwards, or an outstretched forearm with the other fist balled up and used as a pivot point in the elbow of the forearm, which is then raised vertically.
    I doubt that any Briton would take offence at the "T" symbol.
     
  3. Alicky

    Alicky Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina- Español
    For me "time out" is holding one hand vertically and the other horizontally. The vertical hand situates below the horizontal forming a T.

    I tried your "time out" and to me it was weird. Specially the fact that I was using the middle finger. Could it be that the finger was the problem? Perhaps if you had used your whole hand...
    What do you think?
     
  4. zebedee

    zebedee the manamana mod

    Valencia - Spain
    Gt. Britain - English

    Speaking from the English side, I'd have to agree that I think the problem is the middle finger. My "time out" gesture is a vertical hand touching a horizontal hand forming a T but without the middle finger bit.
     
  5. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    How do you not involve the middle finger?
    Hold one hand flat.
    Hold the other one upright.
    Place the upright one under the flat one (I put it where the knuckles nearest the palm are) and the only finger which will touch the flat hand is the middle one - the others are too short alongside it. To make them touch the flat hand means bending the middle finger, and the others need to bend too if the little finger is to touch the flat hand.
     
  6. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Jerusalem
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    But apparently, he used only the middle finger:
    I think it was inadvertently offensive, but I think she was probably making mileage out it. It wasn't intentional, after all. Apparently.

    Anyway, isn't "time out" horizontally oriented, like a capital T?
     
  7. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    I've got to disagree - how do you hold one hand vertically and[/n] hold the middle finger vertical? Holding the hand vertically automatically means the middle finger is vertical - otherwise the hand is a fist with the middle finger raised.

    What PD described is a "T" on its side, and I think she's probably confused her vertical and her horizontal.
     
  8. whattheflock Senior Member

    Inglesito, US of A
    Yeah, I had to think about it for a while when I read the description of the first "T". Maybe the friend thought she was given the shaolin salute and was being challenged to a fight....

    Regardless of how crooked the "T" mighta been, I think most anyone woulda understood that it was a "time out" request, I don't know.
    But I was told once before when I was in college that unless I know exactly how people from different countries do their hand-signs, to abstain from gesticulating. Good advice, but difficult to implement for guys like me that will use wild gyrations of the arms and restless flapping hands to convey what I'm trying to say.
     
  9. ireney

    ireney Modistra

    U.S.A.
    Greek Greece
    First of all that T sign, if it wasn't done properly (I am still confused by the description) would probably confuse me if it was too different from the usual Time-out sign but I wouldn't take it as an offensive gesture. If I didn't understand what it was I'd probably react with an eloquent "Wha'?" or "Huh?".

    I'm usually pretty slow to take offence by anything but international offensive gestures (middle finger raised and the other one maxiogees described so well in post #2).
    One of the reasons is that people will inadvertedly give us the Mountza or Faskelo when they only want to either say "go back", "stop there" , hail a cab or just saw five emphatically (I've seen it in NBA games; coach seemed to be giving a mountza to his whole team). It's not hard since all you have to do is hold you palm up and outwards with the fingers open rather wide and thrust your hand toward the other person.
    For us it's insulting, for everyone else it's not really. I've you got a mountza even from your very polite English teacher you learn to keep in mind cultural differences.

    http://argoul.blog.lemonde.fr/argoul/images/greenspan_1.jpg I got that from English wikipedia's article on moutza. Mr Alan Greenspan seems to be giving a moutza to all of us
     
  10. Alicky

    Alicky Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina- Español
    That should be a "when travelling or dealing with foreigners..." law. I talk using gestures a lot; but when speaking with people from another cultures I try to avoid using my regular "talk-help" gestures.
     
  11. Tolovaj_Mataj Senior Member

    Ljubljana, SI
    Slovene, Slovenia
    I agree with Ireney on this and aslo that it's better to avoid gestures when talking to people from a different background.

    I try to understand your description and more and more I'm convienced you showed her a gesture for a technical foul (I'm talking basketball-wise).
    So if you'd show me this in a very heated conversation, you would make me even more pissed off as your gesture means I don't follow the rules.
    I her case - you said you believe she was from the UK - I think it was a pure misunderstanding as majority of Brits don't follow basketball at all.

    Btw, a gesture for the time-out is like this: form a T by putting the right hand palm as a top and touching it from the bottom with a stretched INDEX finger of the left hand with all other four fingers being pressed together in a fist.

    All gestures with a stretched out middle finger only are avoided in basketball from very obvious reasons.
     
  12. Poetic Device

    Poetic Device Senior Member

    New Jersey
    English, USA
    No no no no!!!! I'm so sorry. I should have been more clear! All of the fingers are streached out, not folded under. I only said the thing about the middle finger as a reference of how to position the hands. Basically, Tony had it right. They do use it in football (either one, I think) and other sports. Whether or not it originated from there I wouldn't be able to tell you. This is so wierd that you guys are saying otherwise. I guess she just wanted to win the argument that badly.:eek:

    In any event, Aside my screw-up. My question still stays the same. Has anyone made a hand gesture to another from a different culture/background to have it be misinterpreted?
     
  13. Alicky

    Alicky Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina- Español
    Now I get it. Sorry.:eek:
    Regarding to your question, no.
    But then, I don't need hand gestures to be misinterpretated. I can't count the number of times I've said something that has been misinterpretated. Mostly because I can't express myself properly in my own language, even less in english.
     
  14. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo Mod Chicken

    Arizona
    American English
    I'm on PD's side here -- if you turn the "T" on its side, it's still a time out. My middle finger is longer than the others, so it touches the palm of the other hand, while the others don't reach... but they are all extended together.

    I've never made a gesture that was misinterpreted, as far as I know. :rolleyes: The more common problem is not mis-understanding gestures from another culture, it's understanding them in the first place. :D
     
  15. curly

    curly Senior Member

    English - Ireland
    If someone nade any kind of gesture in that situation it wouldn't matter what it was, i think i would assume that it's rude...
     
  16. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    Whilst not strictly a hand gesture one that gets me into trouble at work all the time is the french habit of puffing one's cheeks out and exhaling slowly whilst concentrating on question being asked. You know the one that english speakers tend to do to show that they're pissed off?
     
  17. kaleidoscope Junior Member

    UK English
    I think the problem with the "time out" gesture (whichever is the proper way to do it) is that most people outside of North America wouldn't know what it meant since it's used exclusively in North American sports, as far as I know. I can see how someone from the UK would mistake it for something else or simply not understand it... although I'm not sure that many would think it meant "up yours".

    I had a Spanish friend who jokingly gave what she thought was a "peace sign" to a group of middle-aged hippy guys, only to discover that in the UK if you make that gesture with your knuckles facing outwards (instead of inwards), it basically means "f*ck off". :D
     
  18. elpoderoso

    elpoderoso Senior Member

    English
    A slightly related question (especially to any polish natives)
    A friend of mine said that when he winks at polish people when he says hello, they reply by blinking. Does this happen because
    a) my friend is actually lying?
    B)winking as part of a greeting, is not part of polish culture?
    or
    C)the polish people are having a laugh at my friends expense?
     
  19. Sofia29 Senior Member

    Argentina - Spanish
    It happened to me once, talking to a guy from Spain who had lived in Italy for some time.

    He asked me something and I didn't know the answer... I made the Argentine "I don't know" gesture . He was taken aback by it and I was like "what is it?? I just don't know!". Turns out he thought I was saying I didn't care. He confused it with the Italian "me ne frego" gesture: http://italian.about.com/library/nosearch/blgestures026.htm.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2009
  20. Victoria32

    Victoria32 Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (UK) New Zealand
    That is similar to 'T' in the NZ deaf manual alphabet - and it's the sign they used to use to mean a request for the toilet... (Not now - all signs must be able to be made with one hand now.)
     
  21. Victoria32

    Victoria32 Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (UK) New Zealand
    I did just that to my Australian boss, who went off at me! (Granted - it meant a give me patience sigh, as much as concentration... but we were on the phone, she wasn't suppsed to hear it!)

    Told off for 'huffing' at her!


    VL http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/Kitten_Huffing
     
  22. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    How wierd! The Australian Deaf wouldn't let a government official tell them how to speak/write their own language!

    In the manual alphabet used by deaf people in Australia, both hands are used for all letters except C.

    Most of the signs in Auslan [Australian Sign Language] are two hand signs.
    It takes two hands to sign Auslan, but only one for overbearing!

    There is a one-handed American Sign Language alphabet, and some Auslan signs are based on it.
     
  23. Victoria32

    Victoria32 Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (UK) New Zealand
    I don't know if it was the government that made that decision - I do know I am extremely bad at deaf manual languages! (I am ambidextrous, which I think is the problem.)

    We have the NZ deaf manual alphabet on the kitchen cupboard door so we can learn it, because my son is a nursing student and may need it.
     
  24. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I don't have any personal stories, but I have heard of a few sources of misunderstanding.

    I have heard that raised eyebrows in Greece mean "No", and that it is often mistaken by Americans as incredulity or surprise, but the "no" message is never received. Maybe Ireney can confirm that.

    There is also supposed to be a brief upward nod of the head that also means "no" in Greece, but in the U.S. is a common way for people to greet each other casually if they see each other at a distance. I don't think we'd ever interpret it as "no" without someone explaining it to us.
     
  25. ireney

    ireney Modistra

    U.S.A.
    Greek Greece

    Ah yes I had forgotten about these two! Yes, you are right. There's also the moving the head up and down. If it ends up up it's "no", if it ends up down it's "yes". However if it goes i.e down and then comes straight (which seem to some as an upward movement when it's really just the head getting back in straight line) it's yes and the opposite is "not" . My boyfriend says that we're crazy but then he doesn't understand why " ; " is a question mark in Greek either so raspberries to him :D
     
  26. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    According to the Wikipedia article on NZ Sign Language, the manual alphabet in NZ is the same two-handed one that is used in UK and Australia.

    It also says that NZ Sign Language, Auslan and British Sign Language have a common parent language, and are effectively dialects of one language.
     
  27. Victoria32

    Victoria32 Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (UK) New Zealand
    Which is good, because back in 2000 when I was studying these issues, there were greater differences.
     
  28. zebedee

    zebedee the manamana mod

    Valencia - Spain
    Gt. Britain - English
    Oh right! I got mislaid by the middle finger part of the explanation and thought it was a specific middle finger action which is offensive in GB. But the normal time-out gesture isn't at all offensive and is generally well understood in Britain, so your friend might just have been looking for a way to finish the argument.

    As for misunderstanding cultural gestures, some Spanish people (a minority luckily for me) wave goodbye by holding their hand up with the palm facing them and opening and closing it. To me this gesture looks like a beckoning gesture saying "Come here!" There've been a few times when I've been walking away waving and smiling happily, seen this gesture and gone back thinking they were calling me back to say something they'd forgotten! Quite embarrassing...
     
  29. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Jerusalem
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Here in Israel, we often point to something using the extended middle finger and an upturned palm. I had to unlearn that very quickly when my family moved to the US when I was a kid! Since I've been back (since '83) it seems that this gesture is used less. Spread of American "culture"?
     
  30. Poetic Device

    Poetic Device Senior Member

    New Jersey
    English, USA
    Is that what that is?! I had a co-worker that did this and he was straight from Isreal (BTW, if all the guys were as attractive as he was, I understand why you moved back)and he would always do that. I just thought it was a way to get away with giving people the middle finger.:eek:
     
  31. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Jerusalem
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Yup, Poetic Device. Your co-worker was innocent. :)
     
  32. Poetic Device

    Poetic Device Senior Member

    New Jersey
    English, USA
    I can never remember. What is that story with someone going into some place and making the U.S.A. sign for okay?
     
  33. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo Mod Chicken

    Arizona
    American English
    Supposedly, Nixon got off the plane in South America flashing the OK sign -- which resembles the f*** you sign that is common in much of Latin America.
     
  34. Alicky

    Alicky Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina- Español
    Oh my...
    Yes, it does resemble the f... sign.
    I can explain to you how hard I'm laughing right now. But this is a good example. You can't be too careful when making hand-gestures. And if you are a public figure this becomes extremely important.
     
  35. Sorcha Senior Member

    Ireland, English
    I have come across a huge number of these, the ok sign in France means zero, as in something that is not cool. A spaniard i know had a close encounter in London asking for two beers (like the inverted peace sign), Sri lankans and Indians have that side to side head thing when showing respect (found that one quite confusing). i also have come across a number of interesting sounds that dont exist in English, most of them are Italian-like the one for Italians saying no, which in to me means 'I disaprove'. Funny the differences you find!
     
  36. kruthskins Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    United States- English
    I would interpret the Argentine "I don't know" sign as "f*** off." I'm not sure if other Americans would see it that way though. I remember being told that the sign means "f*** off" in American Sign Language.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2009
  37. Giorgio Lontano

    Giorgio Lontano Senior Member

    Nova Guatemala da Assunção.
    Guatemala - Español
    If than hand's middle finger was pointing at me I'd be rather insulted, since he'd be messing with my mother... :eek:

    In my case, that sign would mean I don give a sh...

    A hand gesture that could very well be misinterpreted around here is the one they use in Brazil for good luck (like this). It has a variety of obscene meanings, depending on the way you move your arm while doing it. :eek:

    Regards.
    :)
     
  38. gotitadeleche Senior Member

    Texas, U.S.A.
    U.S.A. English
    And to me that gesture is part of a game you play with young children. You hook your index finger and second finger on either side of the child's nose, and when you draw your hand back you put your thumb between those two fingers (as in the picture in the link), and tell the child you have his/her nose. After some teasing, you give the child's nose back by doing the action in reverse.
     
  39. Lugubert Senior Member

    Göteborg
    Swedish
    Dubya Bush has been seen making what not only many Europeans interpret as the sign of the Devil('s horns). It was supposed to refer to a Texas football (?) team.
     
  40. kruthskins Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    United States- English
    The sign actually refers to my university, the University of Texas. Our mascot is a longhorn (a type of cattle from Texas.) It is supposed to look like the animal's horns.
     
  41. rolmich Senior Member

    Tel-Aviv/Israel
    french (France)
    In Israel, when you touch your own face with your right forefinger (index) just under your right eye, it means I don't swallow this/tell this to someone else.
    I know that in France, it is used in the same way, eventually preceded by the expression Mon oeil !
    Do you have in your own culture this kind of hand gesture or others ?
     
  42. mirx Senior Member

    Español
    Yes, we have many. Look at this old thread where this topic was discussed.
     
  43. Lopes

    Lopes Senior Member

    Brussels
    Dutch (Amsterdam)
    Here this gesture means something like "do you get the deeper/alternative meaning of what I just said". We have a facial expression for what you described but that is ofcourse a bit hard to explain :)
     
  44. ernest_

    ernest_ Senior Member

    Barcelona
    Catalan, Spain
    Yes, here is a bit like what Lopes says, although it's not in widespread usage.
    I remember once I had a purely gestural conversation with somebody from across the room.
    It went like:
    1. I point to him.
    2. I make a gesture meaning "writing" (like writing in the air with an invisible pen).
    3. I make a gesture meaning "later" or "tomorrow" (index finger extended, moving in circles).
    This was correctly interpreted as "do you have an exam tomorrow?", to which the person answered with a nod. Then he pointed at me, with raised eyebrows, meaning "and you?", and I nodded, meaning "me too".
     
  45. rolmich Senior Member

    Tel-Aviv/Israel
    french (France)
    Without knowing that a thread had been opened on the same subject nearly four years ago, I opened mine today under the same name and wish to comment on your remark :
    There is a variant in the way you describe this typically french facial expression : puffing one's cheeks out and exhaling quickly and noisily, means exactly what it means to english speakers :
    I am pissed off and trying to restrain myself. (not to blow my top).
     
  46. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Rolmich, je crois que ce geste (avec le même sens) existe aussi bien en Espagne que dans bien d'autres pays, mais c'est peut-être un peu moins fréquent qu'en France. Aux États-Unis le geste existe avec un autre sens: "Attention! Je te vois bien, toi! N'ose surtout rien!" Par contre, on a l'expression "my ass" (mon cul!, mon oeil!) mais que je sache, il n'y a pas de geste qui l'accompagne. Salut!
     
  47. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod

    IdF
    French (lower Normandy)
    I just remember that in England I used a lot the French gesture consisting of putting your fist in front of your nose (as if to extend it, sort of) and rotating it a little.
    After some time, I finally asked: "But do you understand what I mean by this?" and it turned out that they had absolutely no idea but never said it :D Well, at least they were not offended.
    (and FYI, it means to be drunk :))
     
  48. rolmich Senior Member

    Tel-Aviv/Israel
    french (France)
    DP allow me to complete your explanation (fist/nose/rotation) : it is to describe a drunkard (not necessarily yourself). It would be interesting to know if there are other gestures in other cultures to describe the same situation.
    Also, I do not understand the logic behind this very french gesture.
    Do you have an explanation ?
     
  49. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod

    IdF
    French (lower Normandy)
    Thank you, Rolmich! I wouldn't like people to think that I'm a drunkard myself! :p
    I used it more like: "Don't drink too much or you'll be ... + gesture".

    In French, we say "avoir un coup dans le nez" (literally: to have a blow in the nose) for "to be drunk", because when you're (very? I don't really know) drunk, your nose becomes red. So I think that's a start :)
     
  50. rolmich Senior Member

    Tel-Aviv/Israel
    french (France)
    OK DP, but why this rotative movement of the wrist as if to screw one's nose back into place ?
    There are many sites for french expressions on the subject (rond comme une queue de pelle/comme un polonais, totalement bourré etc...) I wonder if there are sites for hand gestures ?
     

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