If you travel internationally you might consider picking up a copy of the bookDon’t Get Me Wrong!: The Global Gestures Guide by Julia Grosse and Judith Reker. It’s a book of photographs showing various hand gestures from around the world and it is ideal for the global jet setter. Or just somebody going on vacation to a new country. Who knows, maybe it will save you from an embarrassing cross-cultural communication mistake!
Each page shows a photograph of a models hand in a different gesture. The opposite page explains what it means, followed by the countries where it has that meaning. It’s very simple with only minimal text. Occasionally the authors throw in a fun anecdote, such as poking fun at a US President who used an incorrect gesture while on an international trip. But in general the explanations are just one or two words.
Note that this is not a book filled with obscene gestures. Well, at least not American obscene gestures. But the international obscenities are labeled as “vulgar” and left without a specific explanation. The authors are not taking joy in making this a sophomoric book of jokes. It’s a classy way to handle it.
Most of the gestures are everyday expressions, such as how the French put their thumbs up to indicate “one”, or how clasping hands together can mean “thank you” in various African countries.
I’m heading to Turkey in a few weeks — a country I have never visited before — so I quickly scanned the book to see if there is anything I should avoid “saying” with my hands. There are a few things, but they are minor and not gestures I tend to make anyway. So hopefully I don’t tick off a border guard by waving hello.