Rude Hand Gestures Of The World by Romana Lefevre (book review)

After reading Chronicle Books ‘How To Swear Around The World’ by Jason Sacher, I was interested in their companion book, ‘Rude Hand Gestures Of The World’ by Romana Lefevre, which came out first, which their nice publicist supplied me to review. For each one, there are two pages, one with descriptive detail and the other with the photograph showing how it’s done or rather the end result.


As with swear words, there are many uses for this book. Although I doubt if many of you will go abroad and deliberately provoke a fight by giving some of these gestures, knowing what to avoid doing so even recognising when a native is trying to provoke or insult you can also be useful.

One thing that immediately becomes obvious is that hand gestures are not universal, with finger to the nose as mockery and the OK gesture being the most recognised across some countries. Oddly, when you consider how we British adopt words and sentences from other languages, this is less common with hand gestures. A couple of Southern Italian gestures are sea-orientated and you would have thought there might have been a connection as we were a fishing nation ourselves.

The Arabic/Islamic gestures will make you be careful of how you gesture and you should certainly keep your left hand tied behind your back unless you want to seriously insult your hosts let alone suggest the wrong type of sexual orientation. Avoid rubbing the back of your hand in your palm being one of them.

The French appear to be the most widely gestured with what they imply and not necessarily to your face but telling people behind your back…literally. Brazilian hitting your fist on your forehead as an indication of telling someone else that they are an idiot for us in the UK comes over as I’m the idiot so I can see how that one could be misinterpreted. The Japanese wag their finger in the air to indicate someone is stupid or crazy and we see or use that to just mean something falls under that category.

I did raise my eyebrow at the gesture for telling someone they are a dickhead looked suspiciously like someone pretending to be a dalek. Oh, don’t use a thumbs up in Turkey unless you’re gay although in at least six countries/continents it is equivalent to giving the finger elsewhere. Speaking of which, although the one finger is referred to in the opening of this book, the two-finger gesture is the only one that gets the full descriptive detail, deriving from us British telling the French we still had our fingers (they chopped them off prisoners) to fire arrows at them.

Something I wish was covered was how should you respond to these insults? Is there a counter-insult or some way to pacify the situation, especially the seriously insulting ones. I would have thought such information would be useful. Some gestures we use have different meanings in other countries and I do have to wondering what is taught in the various diplomatic corps around the world as to what is acceptable.

This is the kind of book you might read once but then refer to frequently whenever you go globetrotting. Always remember when you know these things there is a tendency to unintentionally use them as well so learn to sit on your hands or keep your hands full just to be on the safe side when visiting these countries.

GF Willmetts

January 2016

(pub: Chronicle Books. 128 page illustrated little smaller paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-8118-7807-4)

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