7 Innocent Gestures That Can Get You Killed Overseas

If you've ever had your penis cut off and/or been executed while on holiday, you'll probably know that it's easy to offend people from other cultures. Unless you learn the ways of the place you're visiting, even the most well-meaning tourist can regularly find his oesophagus stuffed with burning goat. But surely just plain common sense and good manners will save you, right?

Wrong.

Extend Your Hand, Palm Outward in Greece

What you think you are saying:
"Phew! That was a heck of a moussaka. I'd eat another portion, but I'm completely stuffed."

What you are actually saying:
"Phew! That was a heck of a moussaka. I'd eat another portion, but I'm too busy rubbing handfuls of shit in your face."

What the hell?
In Greece, the "hand out" gesture is known as the moutza, and it dates back to the time of the Byzantine Empire, when criminals would be paraded through the streets on horseback, their faces blackened to indicate their shame. If they were lucky, the blackening agent would merely be charcoal. If they were unlucky, it would be a substance much, much worse ...

SHIT, is what we're saying here. Their faces would be covered in SHIT.

If you really want to piss a Greek person off, you can go for the double moutza, which features both hands splayed above your head. However, this will also make you look like a backup dancer from Cats, so it's your call.

Give the Thumbs-Up In The Middle East

What you think you are saying:
"Ayyyyy! I'm the fuckin' Fonz!"

What you are actually saying:
"Ayyyyy! I'm going to jam my thumb in your anus!"

What the hell?
It's not just the Middle East. This seemingly universal gesture is also hideously offensive in West Africa and South America, whose citizens would doubtless get really confused if they ever watched Ebert and Roeper. "This movie is great, Bill! So great that I'd like to anally rape it with my thumb!"

The thumbs-up sign has been confusing people for thousands of years. Contrary to Hollywood legend, Roman gladiators were not spared by a thumbs-up, but by a hidden thumb. If the origins of both gestures are linked, we can only assume this meant, "Do not kill the prisoner, he seems the perfect solution to the emperor's arthritic finger."

Finish Your Meal In Thailand / The Philippines / China

What you think you are saying:
"This is a delicious meal. I mean it. I'm not the kind of guy who would lie about something like this. In fact, your meal was so fucking fabulous that I am going to finish every last morsel and then lick the plate so bright that it reveals the face of God."

What you are actually saying:
"You call yourself a host? I came here for a meal, not some Lilliputian hors d'oeuvre that wouldn't satisfy a mouse after a sizable brunch. Look at me. No, in the eyes. You disgust me."

What the hell?
It is always important that the host provides you with tasty food. However, in countries where steak in bleu cheese sauce costs approximately the same as a lung transplant, it is more important that the host provides you with enough food.

In China, if you finish every last bite of your meal, you are implying that you weren't given enough. Therefore, even if the meal is the most sexually delicious thing that has ever slid down your throat, you should still leave one last morsel on the plate to stare up at you mournfully while you eye it with ill-concealed resentment.

That said, the Orient isn't as uptight as this example suggests. In China it's considered perfectly good manners to talk with your mouth full and to burp after your meal. Farting seems to vary according to the situation and your current company, so ask ahead of time. Lighting the fart is frowned upon in almost all provinces.

Say "Hi" to a Member of the Opposite Sex in Saudi Arabia

What you think you are saying:
"Hi Steve! How's things? Fancy getting a decaf latte?"

What you are actually saying:
"Hi, Steve! How's things? Fancy booking a hotel room so that I can do immoral sex acts on you in the name of Satan?"

What the hell?
According to sharia religious laws, it is deeply immoral for a woman to greet a man in public, or associate with any man other than her husband without an escort. In February 2008, one American woman openly conversed with a man in Starbucks, and was promptly arrested, strip-searched and forced to sign false confessions.

Though, perhaps this is nitpicking considering women are not allowed to drive, vote, own shops, testify in court or ride bicycles there. Bizarrely, it's perfectly fine for women to fly high-powered jet planes, although they're clearly fucked if they feel like taking a bicycle to the airport.

The point being, if you're a woman and are planning a move to Saudi Arabia, offending them with the whole public greeting thing is probably the least of your problems.

Give an Even Number of Flowers in Russia

What you think you are saying:
"Darling, this week has been the most wonderful of my life. Since I first felt the sweet joy of your caress, I have truly come to know what it is to love and to be loved. Please accept these half-dozen roses as a symbol of my eternal tender devotion." (Lean forward for kiss.)

What you are actually saying:
DEATH! DEATH! DEEEEEEAAAAAAAATH!!!!!!

(Lean forward for kiss.)

What the hell?
In Russia, even numbers of flowers are only ever given at funerals, and such a gift is seen as inviting death, which you obviously don't want to do unless you're banging a goth chick.

Choosing the right gift seems to be a minefield of morbidity everywhere you go. Never give a clock to a Chinese person, as the word "clock" is almost identical to a word for "death." Don't wrap your present in white paper there either, as this suggests funerals. And for God's sake, don't give anyone in Bangladesh white flowers or they will presumably be obliged to buy a spade and bury themselves while muttering at you reproachfully.

You know what, screw giving a gift. You may come across as a selfish douchebag, but at least no one will hail you as the fourth horseman of the apocalypse.

Give a Gift With Your Left Hand, Pretty Much Anywhere

What you think you are saying:
"Thank you very much for letting me marry your daughter. She is very beautiful. In gratitude, please accept this dainty, yet tuneful instrument. Did I mention that I'm left-handed?"

What you are actually saying:
"Thank you very much for letting me marry your daughter. She is the most worthless heap of dog vomit I have ever encountered, and I dearly wish that she would die. In gratitude, please accept a generous portion of my own effluence. Did I mention that I hate you?"

What the hell?
Toilet paper may have been around in China since 589 AD, but for much of the world, it remains a prohibitively expensive luxury. In places such as India, Sri Lanka, Africa and the whole of the Middle East, doing anything with your left hand is seen as unclean, as it is (as least symbolically) your ass-wiping hand.

Eating out? Don't even think about using your left hand. It's better to come across as some kind of retarded monkey child than to imply that you rate your host's food on the same level as a lightly-steamed assburger.

Of course, poop is not the only reason left-handedness is bad. According to the Qur'an, Satan himself was a southpaw, which is why he was able to successfully fool the right-handed batter that is mankind.

Give the "OK" Sign in Brazil

What you think you are saying:
"Hi Brazil, I'm US President Richard Nixon, and I'm feeling terrific!"

What you are actually saying:
"Hi Brazil, I'm US President Richard Nixon, and I'm feeling that you should all go fuck yourselves!"

(Note: The above examples are only valid if you are US President Richard Nixon)

What the hell?
In Brazil, the "OK" gesture is roughly equivalent to the finger in the US, which means you should not use it when your hotel manager asks you how your room is, unless you want to tell him that it's purple and velvety and recently molested his wife.

The most famous incident of a misapplied "OK" sign was, in fact, Nixon's visit to Brazil in the '50s. While alighting from the aircraft, he lifted both hands to the cameras and double-fingered the entire nation. Nixon went on to greet the Brazilian Prime minister with a savage kick to the testicles, and concluded his visit by urinating from the window of a moving limousine.

If you're visiting Brazil, you should also never touch any food with your fingers. Even stuff like pizzas and burgers should be eaten with a knife and fork. Not that you'll ever need to apply this knowledge, because after reading this article, you'd be insane if you ever travel abroad again.

Tim Cameron is a recovering gaming addict. His blog, The Silly Addiction, catalogs his ridiculous struggle to go straight.


Now find out what they'll probably be saying in response to those gestures in our look at The 9 Most Devastating Insults From Around the World. And don't forget to check out this video explaining why Jesus kind of sucked as a carpenter. Or head to the brand new Official Cracked.com Store and become a startlingly attractive walking advertisement for our site.

Recommended For Your Pleasure

To turn on reply notifications, click here

777 Comments

The Cracked Podcast

Choosing to "Like" Cracked has no side effects, so what's the worst that could happen?

The Weekly Hit List

Sit back... Relax... We'll do all the work.
Get a weekly update on the best at Cracked. Subscribe now!