Skip to main content

Whisper your wishes

Cross-cultural misunderstandings are rife among gestures of beckonings and farewells in different parts of our planet. For example, the American gesture for "come here" could mean "good-bye" to Italians. Axtell (1998) observes, "the way people beckon one another around the world can be almost as diverse as the way we greet and bid farewell to one another." Today we look into popular hand gestures to signal farewells and to beckon.

1. In the United States, common gesture for getting someone's attention, as when calling a waiter is to raise a hand about head high with the index finger raised (exactly the girl's hand gesture on Samulli's header)

  • If an American used that gesture to a waiter in Germany, saying "Water please," the German waiter would bring two glasses of water
  • In Japan it is rude; pointing a finger at anyone is considered impolite
2. Italians and Greeks will often wave goodbye with the arm extended, palm up, curling all the fingers back and forth toward themselves.
3. The same hand gesture means "come here" in America. But in countries as widespread as the former Yugoslavia and Malaysia, the gesture is used only for calling animals. Therefore, using it to call a human would be terribly impolite.

4. I
n Indonesia and Australia, is it also used for beckoning "ladies of the night."
  • North Americans do not customarily use this gesture and may consider it uncomfortable, effeminate, or puzzling
  • If not done properly in some European countries, particularly Italy and Greece, this gesture might be confused with one used to signal "good-bye." In that case, while the palm faces down, the fingers are waggled up and down as opposed to making an inward, scratching motion.
5. In France, the preferred way to call a waiter to your table is simply to catch his eye and then perhaps nod the head backward quickly.

6. In Colombia, one way to get a waiter's attention is to clap the hands lightly.
  • In Mexico, they purse and pucker their lips and make a kissing noise with the lips
7. In China, to beckon a waiter to refill your tea, simply turn your empty cup upside down in its saucer. If the teapot is empty, turn its lid upside down.

8. In Spain, Mexico, Haiti, when calling a waiter, restaurant patrons can be heard issuing a noise with the lips, something like "hssst," or "psssssst."
  • In the Philippines, I remember teachers in the grades emphasizing to us that whistling to call a waiter's attention is done only by uneducated people who live far away from civilization.
9. In fine restaurants in Brazil "you don't ever gesture or signal to get a waiter's attention - you should never have to-the waiter should hover so closely near your side that all you have to do is raise your head upward and whisper your wishes."

  • It's similar with fine restaurants in Thailand; at least the ones I experienced. Waiters are on stand-by the whole time you are dining.
10. Throughout much of Europe and in many Latin American countries the preferred gesture for signaling "come over here" is to extend the arm, hand out, palm down, and then make a scratching motion with the fingers (Figure 2.12).

11. Vulcan farewell - is a Jewish priestly benediction, Leonard Nimoy, the Vulcan space alien
recalled having seen in synagogues, where its significance is that it resembles the Hebrew letter that is the first letter of a word that represents God's name.

12. In Europe, the customary way to wave "hello" or "goodbye" is with the arm up and extended out, with palm down, and just the hand bobbing up and down at the wrist (Figure 2.8).

13. Semaphore action - it is the term used to describe how Americans tend to wave goodbye (Figure 2.7).

Source: Axtell, R. E. (1998). Gestures: The do's and taboos of body language around the world. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Play T13


Chubskulit Rose said…
wow, very nice article sis.. learned a lot!
ryliej said…
Thanks for sharing this one, I remember that whistling manner too hehehe
Lori said…
It's always interesting to learn how other people in other places do things. Appreciate the info.
I am Harriet said…
I'm so confused now :)
Think I'll stay home.
Hazel said…
Harriet, LOL!
colleen said…
I'm going to be afraid to move my arms when I'm traveling!
Hazel said…
colleen, that sets me thinking it will be funny to recall what you said here when i go travelling
I agree with Colleen! But I'm willing to learn...
jeng said…
Calling the waiter's attention is tricky...depending on where you are that is. ; )
Alice Audrey said…
Ok, next time I travel I will not beckon anyone.
Hazel said…
Julia, that's the spirit

jeng, Axtell's advice is ask if you're not sure how are things done in the country you are visiting

Alice, dine in a fine restaurant in Bangkok and you don't have to do any beckoning :)
Mia Celeste said…
You do the coolest post. I learn something everytime I visit! Thanks.
Anonymous said…
Wow, that is confusing! It's also very interesting though, I especially liked the 'kissing' noises summons for waiters- that's pretty funny!
Chris said…
very informative and interesting :D thanks so much for this! i learned something new today!
Genefaith said…
galing mo sis..another lessons learned..Kumusta? I heard closed schools jan bec. of swine flu..hope ur fine...
Heather said…
An interesting and educational topic!
storyteller said…
How intriguing ;--)
I doubt I'll remember everything, but reading of these differences today definitely feels educational. Thanks for dropping by Small Reflections earlier ;--)
Hugs and blessings,
Anonymous said…
Wow! Great list, happy T13!
i beati said…
most informative she said while picknig her nose.. ahahh
Susan Cook said…
Great list, It is amazing the differences in countries.

Thanks for sharing. Happy TT!
pehpot said…
daig ko pa nbag around the world sa post mo ah! galing ah!

sabi nila di ba ung paswit is not good, at sa US pag may pumaswit at may lumingon tiyak pinoy un.

naku Mommy, ang hirap naman talga pag may drug dependent sa pamilya.. ako din FB ko hindi masyado update, minsan lang pag gusto ko mg post about sa blog ko.. well actually kaya ko lang naman ginawa FB ko kinulit ako n ghusband ko, way before this whole FB hullabaloo started.. tapos di ko na pinansin but now narealize ko it can be a good source of traffic for my blog.. you know naman in FB people loved spying on their friends kuno list haha

Make or Break
wow that is highly informative :D
The Bumbles said…
Harriet's comment is so funny! I absolutely love the illustrations. The last one for us Americans makes the gesture look extremely silly. Toodles!
Rims said…
This was a true info-tainment :)

Enjoyed and learned a lot.

Thanks for stopping by.

Popular posts from this blog

Thirteen 13-word Quotes

1. I may be wrong , but I have never found deserting friends conciliates enemies. Margot Asquith , British Political Hostess (1864-1945) 2. Man's love is of man's life a thing apart; Girls aren't like that Kingsley Amis , English novelist and poet (1922-1995) "A Book Idyll" ~ see possible origin, also a 13- word quote: M an's love is of man's life a thing apart, 'Tis woman's whole existence Lord Byron (1788-1824) 3. An autobiography is an obituary in serial form with the last instalment missing. Quentin Crisp , English writer The Naked Civil Servant (1968) 4. Happy the hare at morning for she cannot read the hunter's waking thoughts. W.H. Auden , English poet (1907-73) Dog Beneath the Skin 5. Kissenger brought peace to Vietnam the same way Napoleon brought peace to Europe. (by losing) Joseph Heller, American novelist (1923- ) 6. Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live. Dorothy Parker ,


Remember that 1995 Sense and Sensibility scene in which dashing Mr. Willoughby recklessly drives a phaeton around town with Marianne Dashwood? The novel was published in 1811.  Fast drag your imagination to 2011 and the two lovers are today's rich hunk and a happy-go-lucky, attractive chick speeding on say, a Lamborghini Reventon. In Pride and Prejudice, obsequious Mr Collin declares, "she (Lady Catherine de Bough) is perfectly amiable, and often condescends to drive by my humble abode in her little phaeton and ponies." pha·e·ton   (f -tn) n. 1. A light, four-wheeled open carriage, usually drawn by a pair of horses.    2. A touring car. ( The Free Dictionary) Jane Austen in Vermont Two ladies in a high perch phaeton. The owners of these sporty, open-air and lightning fast carriages actually drove the vehicle, as there was no place for a coachman. Phaeton seats were built high off the ground, the sides of the vehicle were open to the elements (a top cou

Sense and Sensibility: 200th anniversary

In 1811 Thomas Egerton of Whitehall, London published Sense and Sensibility . Quick math shows it has been two centuries since Jane Austen became a full-fledged author. Quite an anniversary, indeed. A celebration, I declare . Blogs regarding the publication anniversary of this romance novel picture Jane Austen 's engagements whilst making the final touches of her manuscript from Sloane Street. In letters to her sister Cassandra, Jane gave accounts of her shopping for muslin, the party that their brother Henry and SIL Eliza gave; mentioned several acquaintances, and referred to her book as S and S . As a fan I wonder which between sense and sensibility did JA deem more important since she portrayed both attributes equally well. I'm obliged to enthuse over my S & S reading experience. Alas, I only managed fourteen chapters before getting sidetracked by another novel, the very first that JA wrote. I will resume and complete my affair with the celebrant before 2011 end