Obama and Michelle should probably keep their hands in their pockets during their talks abroad; our President and First Lady use many hand gestures to signal messages to others. If they flash a “love you” or “thumbs up” sign, they could start a war–well, not a war, but it wouldn’t be good for us when they visit the Middle East. And if they use their thumb and index finger to signal “okay” in Brazil, Latin Americans will consider this common American at-a-boy signal as obscene. Also this gesture is highly vulgar in Greece or Turkey, where the Obamas would convey to a diplomat that they resemble a part of the human anatomy. In other countries, like Kuwait, the okay sign signifies the evil eye.
Gestures can give characters in fiction many ways to communicate without always relying on words, looks, or sighs. Hands or other parts of body can quickly communicate approval (thumbs up), dissatisfaction (finger-in-the-mouth gag), or messages (come here, victory, or I love you). Last month, I shared greetings used around the world and those I created for my Nadirian characters. Now I’d like to share a few more, along with my take for Nadirians:
- The Apology: Most of us just say, “Sorry,” but when a Hindu’s foot accidentally touches a book or any written material, money, or another person’s leg, he or she first touches the object with the fingertips and then the forehead and/or chest.
- My Take: Nadirians say “apology” while touching their forehead. Early on when Trinidad’s confidence is low, she apologizes often, but as she deals with her circumstances, she justifies her actions and acts decisively, apologizing only when it suits her purposes.
- The Finger: If you want to communicate approval, don’t signal thumbs up in the Middle East. It is like telling someone where to stick it. Even though flipping The Finger is a worldwide gesture, showing any protruding digit in some countries might be offensive .In the Philippines, you could be arrested if you use the crooked finger for “come here”; such a gesture is suitable only for summoning dogs. In Belgium, France, and Tunisia, brushing your fingers from under chin and flicking fingertips out means get lost, but in Italy the Chin Flick simply means “no.”
- My Take: Nadirians don’t have signals for approval but if they scrape their knuckles across their own jaw, it’s the same as a Thumbs Down. If they go a step further and scrape someone else’s jaw, it is worse than The Finger. Trinidad uses this to signal disapproval, especially with her mysterious companion, Saba.
- Finger Pointing: This gesture is rude in almost every country around the world and can be a common problem for politicians. Many have adopted the “Clinton Thumb” to curtail this bad habit, but even this gesture in other countries could be misconstrued.
- My Take: Although Nadirians don’t have a problem with pointing, it is just as offensive to stare. When they are caught looking too long at their own people, it is an insult, but when they stare at humans, it’s okay; staring is a prelude to stealing their Day.
What bad-habit gestures do you use that would be rude abroad? Do your characters’ gestures show their personalities?