You’re well into your widely attended videoconference event and everything is going well until one of the presenters gesticulates in a particular manner and you see not only widened eyes and slack jaws from some of the foreign participants, but a number of them suddenly drop off entirely. What happened? It’s quite possible that your presenter made a hand motion that might be completely innocuous in the USA but is interpreted in a way that can be outright offensive in other nations. When you’re conducting an online event which is going to be engaging participants around the world you need to be clearly aware of what hand gestures can bring your event to a screeching halt. These are the top ten most critical gestures:
1. OK – Everyone is aware of the OK sign but in many countries it is anything but OK. In France, it will be regarded as you’re signing a “zero” symbol. In Japan it indicates “money.” But in Russia, Germany and Brazil, it is used as an extremely offensive sign equating the viewer with a rear body orifice.
2. Come Hither – Americans think nothing of beckoning someone closer by having the palm facing up and the index finger curling. In Slovakia, China and most of East Asia, it is extremely rude as you are comparing the viewer with a dog. It gets worse: If you’re actually in The Philippines and you make this sign you are actually subject to arrest.
3. V – This V-For-Victory sign was popularized by Winston Churchill during World War II, but it has a very different meaning depending on which way your palm is facing. If it’s facing inward then viewers in the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa will equate it to what holding out the middle finger only extended means in the United States.
4. Thumbs Up 1 – The thumb extended upwards from the fist indicates approval in the United States but in Greece, the Middle East, and even in Australia it’s also the equivalent of the American extended middle finger as above. Thumbs Up 2 – Even though it’s not outright offensive in some countries, this gesture is also a numerical indicator. In Hungary and Germany it means the number one, but if you’re displaying to a Japanese audience it’s the number 5.
5. Horns – A raised fist with the little finger and index finger extended upwards is the standard gesture in the stands of University of Texas Longhorn football games, but to Italians it means that one’s spouse is cheating on them, and in many African countries it is considered a vile devilish curse.
6. Fingers Crossed – In America this sign is interpreted to be an accompaniment to “let’s hope” but in Vietnam, this refers to a lady’s privates and can be extremely offensive, especially if indicated to women.
7. Pat On The Head – This is a gesture which is often used with American children to indicate how cute they are but to a Buddhist who believes that the soul lives at the top of the head it becomes the equivalent of fondling.
8. Extended Open Palm – While we may use this motion to indicate that we want the other person to stop talking, Greeks and other Balkan people interpret this hand sign in a very different manner: During the Byzantine Empire citizens were encouraged to rub their waste in the faces of prisoners who were shackled in public squares.
9. Just About Anything With The Left Hand – Muslims, Hindus and other beliefs reserve the use of the left hand for private hygiene therefore it is extremely inappropriate to hand something to someone else with the left or eat with that hand.
Any promoter or producer of an online event which is going to be seen by people from different nations and cultures has to be extremely sensitive to the particular prerequisites of each of their participants when it comes to hand gestures. The best advice you can give your presenters? Keep your hands clasped and preferably under the desk for the duration of the online event! Better safe than sorry!
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