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Thread poster: xxxAnna Blackab
Off topic: Translating hand gestures
xxxAnna Blackab  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:49
German to English
+ ...
May 11, 2007

Hi again!

I heard a story about an Italian friend who went to Tunisia and completely offended a Tunisian with a run of the mill Italian hand gesture which was not offensive in Italian culture. I can't for the life of me remember what it was but it got me thinking about the potential for misunderstanding here.

I lived in Italy and was fascinated with the intricacy of Italian hand language and would love to know any examples from other cultures.

Anna


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Erik Hansson  Identity Verified
Germany
Member (2002)
Swedish
+ ...
Delicate matter! May 11, 2007

Hi Anna,

Hand gestures from around the globe are really a delicate matter, as they can be offensive in some cultures. For example, an O made with the thumb and the forefinger in some countries means OK, but in some countries it stands for the part of the body where the back changes its name.

I have also heard (need to get it verified) that showing the palm of the hand in Greece can be offensive. Also, don't mix up right hand and left hand in for example India. Right hand is for eating, greeting etc., left hand for the toilet etc.

Have a look here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_gesture

Best regards
Erik


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Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:49
English to Dutch
+ ...
Gestures are VERY culture specific May 11, 2007

Oh, yes, you must be REALLY careful making gestures when abroad. There are too many examples too enumerate, but here are some:
The Dutch tip the side of their heads with the index finger to indicate that the other person has come up with a very cunning plan indeed - however, the French with that very gesture indicate that the other person must be out of his/her mind;
Most West Europeans will nod in approval and shake their heads when disagreeing; Bulgarians and Turks do it exactly the other way round;
The Dutch hold their flat hand horizontally just below the chin to indicate that they are fed up with something (not: somebody!); the Italians use that gesture to indicate they would gladly cut the other person's throat.
Just a few examples.


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 13:49
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Some links May 11, 2007

I agree, this is a fascinating and often amusing subject.
You can start here:
http://www.answers.com/topic/hand-gesture
http://www.answers.com/topic/gesture
http://www.answers.com/topic/list-of-gestures
The last link is especially useful when you want to find the widely used name of a particular gesture.
HTH
Attila


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:49
English to Arabic
+ ...
Maybe.. May 11, 2007

Here's a good reminder of all Italian hand gestures ("Speak Italian with your hands" ) - maybe that will help:

http://italian.about.com/library/handgestures/blgesturesindex.htm

I'm not sure which one could have offended the Tunisian friend, but it may be this one:
http://italian.about.com/library/nosearch/blgestures018.htm (Perfetto!)

which is similar to this one:
http://italian.about.com/library/nosearch/blgestures028.htm (the OK sign)


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Elizabeth Sumner
Local time: 12:49
Russian to English
+ ...
Backwards 'V' sign in Britain May 11, 2007

The 'V' sign backwards (palm towards you) is offensive in Britain and Australia but not really anywhere else.

I had a Russian teacher who used to use this gesture when saying the number two. I never had the heart to let her know she was telling me to get lost in no uncertain terms.

Allegedly this gesture exists because the French used to cut off captured English bowmens' index and middle fingers, so their full-fingered colleagues would waggle them back in defiance across the battlefield. Nice.


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Niraja Nanjundan  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:19
German to English
Right and left May 11, 2007


Erik Hansson wrote:

Also, don't mix up right hand and left hand in for example India. Right hand is for eating, greeting etc., left hand for the toilet etc.


Hi Erik,

This is absolutely correct, but I don't think it has anything to do with the kind of hand gestures Anna is talking about, but with things being divided up into right and left in some cultures. Unfortunately, even though I'm Indian, I don't know much about this, but I believe there was a famous anthropologist who did a lot of research on it. Maybe someone else can enlighten us.

Best regards,
Niraja

[Edited at 2007-05-11 10:19]


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David Earl  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:49
Member (2007)
German to English
Open palm May 11, 2007

Hi Erik,

I heard this, too, when I did a CELTA seminar in Hamburg. They were showing us correction methods, associating each finger with a word, and someone, who had taught in Greece for 18 years, indicated the same thing.


Erik Hansson wrote:

I have also heard (need to get it verified) that showing the palm of the hand in Greece can be offensive.


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Heidi C  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
English to Spanish
+ ...
V sign May 11, 2007


Elizabeth Sumner wrote:

The 'V' sign backwards (palm towards you) is offensive in Britain and Australia but not really anywhere else.



In Mexico, the "V" sign backwards, under and in front of your nose (as if putting your nose inside the V) is also an insult

Or at least it was when I was younger....


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:49
Member
Italian to English
Μούντζα May 11, 2007


David Earl wrote:

I heard this, too, when I did a CELTA seminar in Hamburg. They were showing us correction methods, associating each finger with a word, and someone, who had taught in Greece for 18 years, indicated the same thing.



It's quite correct.

When I was studying in Greece, my flatmate's six-foot tall English mother reduced a five-foot Greek pastry chef to a nervous wreck by silently demanding five cakes with an open-palm "μούντζα" gesture.

She then compounded her mistake by getting the accent wrong on the word "γλυκά" and accidentally calling him "sweetheart" instead of asking for cakes.

Cheers,

Giles



[Edited at 2007-05-11 15:22]

[Edited at 2007-05-11 15:22]


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lingomania
Local time: 21:49
Italian to English
The experts say May 11, 2007

The experts say that the Italians can say much more with their hands than with their tongues. This is true, but strange enough because the Italian language is a rather SPECIFIC language in the sense that there is usually one word for every situation and very few idioms. Seemingly, this would mean that they shouldn't use hand gestures a lot, but they still do!

Rob


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:49
Member
Italian to English
Hands and eyebrows May 12, 2007


lingomania wrote:

The experts say that the Italians can say much more with their hands than with their tongues.



Hi Rob,

It's probably fairer to say that Italians use their hands the way English-speakers use their tone of voice and facial expressions to modulate the content of their speech.




This is true, but strange enough because the Italian language is a rather SPECIFIC language in the sense that there is usually one word for every situation and very few idioms.



That's not the whole story. There's another dimension of expression in colloquial Italian that tends to be overlooked by non-natives: the use of dialect. Standard Italian may not have that many idioms but native speakers can generally come up with a pithy regional expression for most everyday situations.

I'd agree with you that the written language tends to be much less receptive of innovation than English, though.

Saluti,

Giles


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lingomania
Local time: 21:49
Italian to English
Grazie May 13, 2007

Ciao Giles. Thank you very much for these notions. I read them with interest and I must say I agree. I guess we never stop learning...luckily.
A presto.

Rob


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Translating hand gestures






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