Sign Language – be careful or you might get lost in translation (part one)

You may think that the sign language is a universal tool for communication all over the world. Well, that's not quite right. It may help you to get closer to new culture, to express your thoughts and talk without using words, but it can also cause you a great deal of problems if you accidentally insult someone in whose culture signs don't have the meaning you are used to.

So, when you are somewhere abroad, be careful with the air-sawing, because you can get yourself in a pretty awkward, uncomfortable, and even hostile situation. Bulgarians, as typical hot-blooded Balkan people, have it in their nature to talk with their hands. It's not like that everywhere, though. Some people are more collected; others use facial expressions more often and third are even more expressive than us. The signs are in some way like the nodding of the head for 'yes' and 'no', which differs in the different countries.

So, before you step into different cultural reality, you might want to learn more about the common use of gestures.

The Peace Sign
This one comes into two variations – with the palm faced outwards and inwards, And usually symbolizes victory and peace. In USA both positions have a positive meaning – 'victory' was popularized by Richard Nixon, and 'peace and love' became popular after being used in anti-Vietnam war protesters in the 60s. But be careful when showing the V-sign with palm faced inwards when you're in UK, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Italy – you'll be giving someone a juicy insult, even juicier of your hand is on the level of your nose. One of the most famous users of that 'incorrect' version was Winston Churchill, but he quickly fixed his mistake after being told what exactly he was saying that way.

The most popular meaning of the thumb pointing up is 'good luck' or 'approval'. There is a widely spread (but not 100% proven) theory that it was used in Ancient Rome, when the crowd in the Coliseum decided whether to spare the life of a gladiator. Nowadays in most countries a-thumb-up bares the meaning of 'I wish you good luck', or as a sign of approval or standby, probably from World War Two, when fighter pilots used it as a signal they are ready to take off. Don't rush on pulling the thumb up yet – in most of Western Africa and Latin America, as well as Russia, Greece and parts of Italy (Sardinia and the southern part) that's equal to showing middle finger. It's even worse in the Middle East where this gesture is considered as the biggest insult.

We have couple more gestures explain, come back next week to make sure you know what you're doing next time you start throwing your hands in the air!

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