Asians, Westerners, and Hand Gestures

By Maricris

Color and facial appearances are not the only defining factor to being Asian. Neither are our facial expressions as covered by Linda in her recent post, nor the fact that we are notorious for eating rice in all our meals. But our gestures and manners do play a vital role, one that makes us unique and is an unique marker of our distinct culture; some people call it the Asian trademark.

For those who have been born and raised in Asia to later live in the US like myself, identifying the huge differences in gestures and manners between these two cultures take effort. And just like facial expressions, the cultural difference between gestures can cause confusion, if not outright frustration.

Norine Dresser and Roger Axtell are both experts in the field of multicultural customs and has successfully chronicled the intriguing contrast. A few sample of their studies reveals that:

  • A thumbs up sign means nothing in Asia, but is considered obscene in many Middle Eastern countries, Nigeria, Australia and Afghanistan.
  • Pointing with index finger – not a big deal in the United States – is very rude in Asia.
  • The two-finger V sign means victory when palm facing out. When facing in, it means the number two.

During my early days of being in the US, I would wave my hands downward, palm facing out, to say “come here.” To an American recipient, my signal will come across as me, waving “Hi.” Needless to say, this has caused so much annoyance on my end, especially when I’m asking for help from a distance! Or when I’m asked a yes or no answer, I would always nod my head upwards repeatedly, which to me, means both a yes or a no. To an American, that nod only means yes!

Undoubtedly, our gestures and manners, like DNA, are our identifying markers; the unique factor that defines who we are, our race and culture as a whole. But on the flip side, I have to re-train my hands and head. Have you? What other experiences did you have that involved conflicting gestures? Funny or chaotic? I would love to hear them!

ABOUT MARICRIS: Maricris shares her journeys in life through her personal blog ZenVentures, her views on being Asian in Toasty Brown, her insight as a working mother in Working Mother Magazine, and who’s creative side can be found at Golden Flower Creations.

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