Traveling the world and meeting new friends can be exciting. However, not all gestures translate equally.

Different countries around the world have culturally acceptable and unacceptable body and hand signs.

Similarly, if you are an extensive user of emojis, be aware of how some of those images may also offend a local or distort the real meaning of what you are trying to communicate.  

Be aware of the following non-verbal signs to keep things friendly when you travel the world.

1.)    Head Shake

head shake

In many countries, shaking your head can be a way to affirm or deny a request or answer a question. Most of us shake our heads to respond “yes” or “no.”

However, did you know that in Greece and Bulgaria these two are the opposite?

If you find yourself walking the halls of Sofia University in Sofia, Bulgaria or the Cyclades in Greece, make sure you know and are aware of this difference.

2.)    Horns

hand horns

Whether you are throwing up the horns to elude to you “rockin’ it” or reppin’ your favorite college football team, make sure you don’t find yourself signaling horns unintentionally.

In countries like Mexico, Spain, Greece and Italy, the horn sign signifies cheating.

Meaning, that you may be suggesting someone is cheating or being cheated on.

Instead make sure your thumb is sticking out to signal love and not lack there of.

3.)    Thumbs Up

Even though gesturing thumbs up may symbolize approval or “o.k.” in many countries, this is not the case in Australia.

In Australia the thumbs up is an obscene symbol. Do not use it unless you want to rudely dismiss someone as opposed to acknowledging that everything is "cool."

4.)    Crossed Arms

Crossed Arms

This non-verbal gesture may be more familiar to most and consistent across the world as a sign of arrogance.

Whether you are in a meeting, or in a conversation with someone else, crossing your arms can be perceived as not caring or as insolence.

In Finland, crossing your arms if often characterized as cockiness and arrogance.

5.)    Hand-in-Pocket

hand in pocket

You might think one hand in your pocket just shows you are relaxed and calm. For many this is simply a sign of comfort.

But in Turkey and South Korea, hand-in-pocket also shows arrogance.

Therefore, keep your hands visible and make an effort to present yourself as welcoming and friendly.

6.)    O.K. Symbol

ok sign

Like the thumbs up, this other O.K. symbol is offensive in Brazil, Germany and Russia.

Instead of meaning "ok" or as affirmation, this hand gesture might be pointing towards a more obscene body part.

So next time you find yourself in any of these three countries, opt in for two thumbs up to signal satisfaction, but be careful not to do it in the wrong country.

7.)    Showing the bottom of your sole

bottom sole

Showing the bottom of your foot, shoe or sole might not seem out of the ordinary. However, in many Muslim, Arab, Hindu and Buddhist countries this is a highly offensive gesture.

In these countries showing your sole is seen as dirty since this is the lowest part of your body and the closest to the ground.

Next time you visit and sit to enjoy a cup of tea, make sure your sole stays facing the ground and not your friendly neighbor.  


When you travel and meet people from all over the world, make sure you keep in mind these non-verbal gestures.

Connect with a local from the visiting country and ask them about some of the best cultural practices.

After all, these cultural cues will help you appreciate the country you are visiting and ensure your time there is pleasant and eye-opening.