Watching your own body language – the way you say things and how you act can be difficult when traveling in foreign cultures, but that’s nothing compared to trying to understand gestures from other cultures! Here is a list of gestures around the world that I’ve found rather confusing…
The Indian Yes-No-Maybe shake
If you ask for a yes or no question, expect to get more confused than before you asked.
You’ll barely ever get a straight answer, just the typical loose shake with the head that says “yes and no” at the same time.
I found this so confusing!
“Ne” in Greece Means Yes
In Greece, I often found that even when they spoke English to you, they always said ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in Greek.
This wouldn’t be much of a problem, if it wasn’t that “ne” actually means yes…
Most countries in Europe have similar words for no: No, Nein, Nej, Nei, etc. so this was definitely confusing.
The Head Toss and Tongue Click in Balkan
This short arrogant tongee click simply means no, and is often by westerners seen as a lazy and arrogant gesture.
Another common gesture is the head toss, which often comes together with the Tongue Click.
They toss their heads back and click their tongues, as a way of saying “no” or “no we don’t have it”.
It really looks arrogant and lazy, but I’ve had friends from Croatia, and they acted the same to each other all the time, to them it’s just the way they say no.
Some countries, like Turkey, exaggerate even more by raising their eyebrows.
The Bent Finger in Hungary
If they mean straight and then turn left, they put out their index finger bent toward the left.
Not very confusing, but I thought it was pretty funny.
Bulgarian Head Nod
For some reason, in Bulgaria, they have done the same thing but opposite. The head nod up and down means “no”, and the head nod from side to side means “yes”.
This gets pretty bizarre sometimes when the other person can’t speak English very well and explain.
Tourists Who Don’t Speak English Annoy Me
Yesterday, I was – again, approached by a girl asking me something – what she was asking was impossible for me to know, since she was speaking French.
I said that I spoke English, but she didn’t want to understand, and continued speaking French.
When I smiled helplessly and said again that I didn’t understand, she looked at me as though I was a complete idiot, and walked off in a huff.
This is the fourth time in four weeks that I’ve met people from European countries traveling through Malaysia without being able to understand or speak one word of English.
This is something which fascinates (and I admit, annoys) me.
I don’t expect them to speak fluent Malay – I can’t do that myself, since it’s not something you learn when you plan to only stay for a few weeks.
But I do expect them to speak a little bit of English.
I have understood that this for some is a touchy subject: why should we expect other people to speak English just because we do?
I can answer to that, perhaps from another perspective.
I’m Swedish – English is not my mother language, and I do not think that people should understand my own language just because I speak it.
For me it’s not even about that, it’s about finding an easy way for two individuals from complete different countries and cultures to communicate and get along.
I have found English to be the most widely spoken language to get by with while traveling, and have been able to make many friends from all parts of the world thanks to being able to speak English.
I understand that they wouldn’t speak to me in English while I was in France or Germany, I would be in their country after all.
But it does confuse me when someone from another country than the one I’m in expects me to speak in their language when we are both in a complete different part of the world.
I am surprised to see so many Europeans traveling the world without understanding one word of another language than their own.
I’m amazed that they dare, and that they seem to get away with it, but I can’t help but feeling a bit annoyed, and wonder how they would react if I started replying to them in Swedish?
Seeing a man standing at the airport screaming and demeaning a young Balinese man in Russian – a few years back – really got on my nerves.
The Russian man was unhappy with something to do with the luggage that he was taking on one of the many great discounted airlines, and was complaining to the Balinese man – only that he did all of this in Russian, getting more and more angry with the guy for not understanding.
The Balinese man was trying to explain in English, but without any success.
Of course, people can travel without wanting to understand anyone apart from other travelers from their own country, if they want, but when they expect you to speak their language, and get annoyed when you don’t – it’s really NOT ok.
I would love to know what you think – both native English speakers and those who speak other languages.
(photo credit: 1)