Tech and Science

Avoid Using These Hand Gestures (and GIFs) In Other Countries

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Traveling can be an amazing experience. You get to immerse yourself in different cultures and do things that you may never have considered before.

While you’re probably prepared to encounter language barriers in other countries, you should also be careful with your body language and using other customs that are ingrained in our culture, including emojis and GIFs, as they may be seen as offensive. This could mean that you are doing more harm than good!

Read on to see what gestures and their GIF equivalent you must avoid if you’re planning to embark on an international trip.

A Backwards Peace Sign

This iconic “V” shape is made with your fingers. Anyone making this hand gesture will keep their palm facing inwards with the “V” facing the other person in the conversation. It’s a symbol that’s commonly associated with peace or happiness in the US.

You must be very cautious about using this gesture in other countries. In the United Kingdom, sending a peace sign GIF in a text message or making the gesture at anyone could come across as being offensive. It’s essentially the equivalent of “screw off” over there and is an easy way of taunting someone, riling them up, and generally eliciting a negative response.

Thumbs Up and High Five

You may think that sending a high five gif or giving someone a thumbs up is a great way of showing your approval for something. However, these actions can be perceived as offensive in some spots like Greece and Italy.

In these countries, the thumbs-up gesture is often viewed as the equivalent of giving the middle finger, and will more than likely get you in some trouble if you use it. And if a high five initiator has been “left hanging” online or in person then it could be seen as an insult, depending on the context.

Though it’s certainly a good thing to keep this knowledge in mind if you’re visiting any of these places, or speaking to someone living in these countries online, you likely won’t have to deal with many repercussions if you slip up and make an honest mistake.

The OK Sign

The “OK” sign is widely used in a positive context to represent an “O” and a “K”, however, it also has negative connotations associated with being or feeling worthless.

While the innocuous act of making a circle with your thumb and index finger has been normalized in the US, you should refrain from using it in countries like France where a lot of people will still perceive it to mean “worthless”. If you use the “OK” sign in Brazil and Turkey, you’d be using vulgar slang without even knowing it.

Needless to say, if you flash this at someone (particularly with your palm facing toward you) in these countries, you’re not conveying that you think they’re “A-OK.”

Come Here Motion

In America, beckoning someone over to you is a completely innocent gesture. If you want to beckon someone, you’ll typically point at them and then use your finger to signify them to move over to where you are. Beckoning could also include waving both of your hands with your palm facing upwards.
If you choose to use any type of beckoning hand gesture in the Philippines, you will land yourself in hot water. It is a gesture used only for summoning a dog. Directing this action at someone else – whether you are using a GIF or doing the action in person – can be seen as highly demeaning.

Rock On Sign

The rock-on sign is generally seen as something positive in western European nations and involves you using your index finger and your pinky to form its iconic shape. It is often used to refer to heavy metal, as an encouragement to proceed with a specific activity, or even to mimic devil horns. It’s generally used at concerts or parties, especially those of rock music.

Because this hand gesture resembles horns, it’s easy to see how it can be negatively interpreted. Notably, in some countries, this hand gesture can be used to publicly declare that somebody’s wife has been – or is currently being – unfaithful to them.

You will want to refrain from using these hand gestures in any capacity in countries like Brazil, Portugal, Spain, and Italy.


These are some of the hand gestures (in-person and GIF forms) that you need to avoid when visiting other countries. You must think seriously about the connotations of certain body language and stop yourself from being too over-the-top online so that you aren’t disrespecting or offending anyone.

About the author

Saman Iqbal

Saman is a law student. She enjoys writing about tech, politics and the world in general. She's an avid reader and writes fictional prose in her free time.

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