5 everyday hand gestures that can get you in serious trouble outside the US

Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesThis gesture is offensive in some cultures.
  • Some hand gestures that are innocent in the United States are offensive in other countries.
  • The thumbs up, the “OK” sign, and crossing your fingers are all examples of gestures that are vulgar in certain places outside the US.

Not every hand gesture is universal.

And sometimes, making what you think is an innocent gesture in one country can land you in hot water somewhere else.

Just ask any traveller who’s given a thumbs-up in Afghanistan. Or someone who’s crossed their fingers in Vietnam or signalled “OK” in Brazil. All those gestures have offensive connotations away from American soil.

Read on, or watch the video, to see the hand gestures you definitely don’t want to make overseas.

The ‘V’ sign represents peace …

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

The ‘V’ sign, made by holding up the index and middle fingers, initially was used to signal victory by Allied nations during World War II. Anti-war activists later adopted it as a symbol of peace, and today the gesture is known as “the peace sign.”

… but flip it around, and in some countries it’s like giving someone the finger

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

In certain Commonwealth countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, an outward-facing V sign is an obscene gesture equivalent to giving someone the middle finger.

The gesture is often performed by flicking the V up from the wrist or elbow.

You might throw up the devil’s horns at a rock show, but in some countries you’re telling someone their wife is cheating on them

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Heavy metal fans are familiar with the so-called “sign of the horns” or “devil horns,” made by extending the index finger and pinky.

But in many European and South American countries, including Italy, Spain, Greece, Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, the gesture has a more obscene meaning.

There, it’s used to mock cuckolds – husbands whose wives are unfaithful. The connection is obvious to people from those countries: the word for “cuckold” in Italian, Spanish, and Greek is the same word for “horned.”

This looks like an ‘OK’ sign, but not in Brazil

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Making a circle with your thumb and your index finger is how to signal “OK” in the US.

But make the same gesture in Brazil, and you’re giving the equivalent to the middle finger – the gesture has “insulting and scatological connotations,” as the New York Times put it. Richard Nixon once raised some eyebrows in the 1950s when he made the gesture in Brazil as he stepped off a plane.

Americans should be aware that the gesture has multiple meanings at home, too – in recent years, the OK symbol has been linked with white supremacy groups.

Never cross your fingers in Vietnam

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

In most cultures, crossing your fingers means you’re hoping for good luck.

But not in Vietnam. There, the gesture is thought to resemble female genitals, and making it is similar to giving the middle finger.

And definitely don’t give a thumbs up in the Middle East

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

The thumbs-up gesture is a sign of approval in most countries.

However, in several countries in West Africa and the Middle East, including Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the gesture has the connotation of “up yours!” It’s used the same way the middle finger is in the US.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.