Travelling Abroad: The Power of Physical Gestures

Hand gestures are frequently thought of as a universal language—one that everyone, regardless of country of origin, can generally understand to a certain extent. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the local language, pointing towards a train at the subway and then to your wrist will most likely indicate to a local that you need to know what time the train leaves. Read on to find out about some gestures that will be universally understood, and some seemingly common gestures that won’t exactly be well-received abroad.

Some Universal Gestures

Here are some gestures that will serve you well while travelling outside New Zealand, Australia or the United States, which can be appreciated and easily understood by locals everywhere.

  • A Smile

This simple movement of 12 facial muscles will go a long way for you in an alien country. Smiling is an effective way to convey that you mean well, making locals more willing to assist you as you tour their city. In Eastern countries especially, conveyance of emotion, through smiling for instance, plays a more pivotal role in communication than the mere verbal transference of information, that we are more accustomed to here in the West.  A smile can help you send out positive vibes as you travel through unknown countries.

  • A Head Bow

A gesture that will be understood world over, a slight bow of the head can be a positive gesture that can take the place of several common phrases, including greetings, thank you’s, and affirmative statements (i.e. “yes”, “of course”, “that’s fine”, etc.).  A head bow helps you come across as a humble, understanding individual, a necessary impression to create when you are the visitor.

  • Body Language

While travelling, maintain a fluid body language rather than a rigid one. A more relaxed body language will help you come across as a more amiable, approachable individual and will reduce the awkwardness of trying to find your way around an alien region.

Some Gestures to Avoid

Common gestures that one may assume are universal here in New Zealand or North America, may unintentionally offend some folks overseas. Read on to find out which ones to avoid.

  • The Okay Sign

This gesture formed using your thumb and forefinger may be a normal way to tell the chef that the meal’s delicious here in America, but in parts of Europe and Asia, this gesture is not appreciated in the least. In Greece and Turkey, this gesture has a vulgar, offensive connotation, while in the Middle East it is representative of the evil eye.

  • Pointing

“Is this the way to the local place of worship?” you ask innocently pointing down the road. A gesture not very well-received abroad, pointing is extremely rude is several nations. Instead, try indicating the direction in question using an open palm—save yourself the trouble of an unintentional insult.

  • Thumbs Up

Here in the West, the thumbs up gesture is used for all kinds of things, from signaling that all’s well to wishing someone good luck. However, in many regions worldwide, including the Middle East, South America, and West Africa, this gesture is a hideously obscene one. Avoid at all costs. Try a smile to indicate your happiness or satisfaction instead of risking this gesture.

Travelling is exciting, but can prove to be quite daunting when you don’t speak a word of the local language. Employ these gestures to more effectively communicate with locals and develop a positive relationship even with those whom you may not be able to verbally communicate with. Though your language may not be generally understood, simple actions like a smile or slight bow of the head are indeed universal. Just be sure to avoid those not-so-universal gestures wherever you are.


This blog article was contributed by Sara Collins, writer for NerdWallet, a site that helps users stay informed about the best ways to save money on travel.

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Chinese vs Kiwi approach to using the library

Interesting incident at the Parnell library (behind our Euroasia Parnell campus) today. Chinese lady walked up to counter with granddaughter, wanting to return a book. She said this in Chinese but obviously the Kiwi librarian had no clue what she was on about. Chinese lady asked granddaughter to translate. But the 3 year-old looked clueless. In the midst of the confusion I walked up to assist.

I explained to the Chinese lady that returns simply go into the box.

Chinese lady was shocked. She

asked how would the library know if the book was returned. What if the book goes missing?

I asked her not to worry but she wasn’t convinced. I explained to her this is how it works and assured her the books are safe.

It’s difficult for Kiwis to understand what the fuss is all about. Why can’t these Chinese folk just drop their books in the returns box like everyone else?

It’s also difficult for Chinese to understand why books aren’t returned over the counter. Who’s responsible if the books are stolen?

It’s inevitable. Our history and upbringing influence the

way we think and act.

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Why we cannot ban bbq dog meat

The huge uproar over a Tongan man found barbecuing his pet dog is a demonstration of cultural insensitivity bordering on ignorance and hyprocrisy. Paea Taufa was found roasting the pitbull terrier-cross in an umu at his Mangere home. “If we eat heaps of… pig you get a (sore) stomach. But when we eat … dog, it doesn’t matter how much you eat, nothing is wrong with the tummy,” Taufa told Sunday News. Major dailies reported this, and today CNN carried the story, citing “the case infuriated and repulsed many New Zealanders.”

The Tongan guy had decided to cook the dog because it was too skinny and had become unmanageable. He rendered the dog unconscious with a blow to the head before slitting its throat. Under the Animal Welfare Act it is legal to kill a dog in New Zealand if the animal is slaughtered swiftly and painlessly.

The SPCA is very upset with Taufa, with the CEO saying “Even though the law says you can humanely kill an animal, you should not be treating any animal like this.” Many people are now calling for a law change, led by the SPCA, petitioning for the eating of dog meat to be banned. Various editorials swiftly condemned the practice of eating dog meat. The Tongan guy was demonised and probably traumatised, and he has since told media that he wouldn’t bbq another dog.

I am opposed to any attempt to ban the eating of dog meat and backyard dog barbecues.

New Zealanders love their meat and is only behind Demark globally (and ahead of the Americans) in terms of per capita consumption, 3.5 times the world average. The average Kiwi eats over 90 kg of meat per year, 65% red meat vs 35%

white meat.

What is the difference between sheep and dogs? Some argue that dogs are pets. But some sheep are pets too. So are some chickens. Why ban the consumption of one type of meat but not another?

It is more inhumane for most of the pigs in New Zealand to be locked up in cages for all their lives and then slaughtered for their meat, than for Mr Taufa to kill a free-range dog swiftly. Why did people not revolt against pig farmers, especially after Mike King’s expose on TVNZ’s Sunday? When told that the cost of pork in supermarkets will rise significantly if farmers moved to free-range farming, people stopped complaining.

Some argue that cattle and sheep are raised specifically for their meat, and dogs are not. By that token would the protesters be placated if enterprising individuals started dog farms in New Zealand? We export tonnes of horse meat offshore. This means we are killing farm horses in huge numbers. Would horse-killers be regarded as barbaric too?

The argument that we cannot kill dogs for food because they are cute/friendly/small/intelligent doesn’t wash. We don’t see our vegetarian friends getting all judgemental when we meat-eaters confess our love for meat (as long as it’s not from an endangered species). Why can’t meat-eaters afford the same courtesy to dog-eaters? No one is asking you to join them.

SPCA CEO says: “The slaughtering, roasting and eating of a dog or nolvadex pils other companion animal is simply abhorrent to our culture as New Zealanders”. Dogs were eaten in New Zealand long before the Europeans arrived. Taufa himself is probably a NZ citizen. The SPCA is venturing into dangerous territory by becoming an arbitrator of what is culturally right or wrong.

The main thing that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals should be worried about is exactly that, prevention of animal cruelty. As long as animals are slaughtered in a humane manner, then what people eat should be left up to them.

The law doesn’t need to be changed. It’s the hypocritical mindset of protesters coming from the second biggest meat-eating country in the world that does.

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Vietnamese show and tell

I just got back from a Vietnamese dinner in Otahuhu, hosted by one of my Vietnamese friends. He had a theme going, which he called a Vietnamese “show-and-tell”. Nothing sleazy I assure you. The idea is every person brings something along to share with the rest. It has to be something related to Vietnam.

I have been thinking about this for days. Today I asked my colleagues to see what they thought. Peter suggested talking about the Vietnamese hat. I'm glad I didn't as 2 other people talked about hats.

Instead I decided to talk about something that Vietnam is famous for in South East Asia. And that is for the prowess of their football teams. Vietnamese people are really into football (OK, so's the rest of the world outside of NZ). Considering their size and economic status, they tend to do pretty well.

As a Malaysian, I'm pretty embarassed to see the Vietnamese constantly beating Malaysia's football team. In the most recent incident, the Vietnamese Women thrashed Malaysia 11-0 in the group stage of the Southeast Asia Women’s Football Championship in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday. I know my Malaysian friends will say I shouldn't be writing about this. But this is what I shared…

Perhaps a better story than the alternative, which was to talk about bean sprouts…frankly that

was the first thing that came to mind when I thought about Vietnam. You know the kind you get when you order raw beef noodle soup…

We have to start organising some show and tell events at Euroasia. French show and tell, Spanish show and tell etc.

I am sure at least some of you would be keen…

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