When you travel to Europe, it’s important to understand the people. Every day you walk through the cities of Rome, Paris, Madrid and Berlin you will come across, and even meet local people from the city, and possibly from all over Europe! When you meet people that speak other languages to you, one of the best ways to communicate effectively is through body language and hand gestures. But what if you don’t know what they mean?
Some of European hand gestures are positive and some are negative, for example, many people in the US and the UK use the thumbs up sign as a positive “yes”, however, in Sardinia and Greece it is as bad as holding up the middle finger. Though there are thought to be more than 700,000 forms of non-verbal communication, there are many body language signals and hand gestures in Europe that you will see people use frequently, and understanding their intentions is paramount to communicating effectively.
Here we give you the lowdown on some of Europe’s most popular hand gestures, and European body language, and what it all means. So the next time you order a coffee in Paris, or a pizza in Rome, you may have a chance of understanding European hand gestures:
You may have seen this gesture over-acted in a number of comedies and films, but it is actually real. A number of Europeans, especially in Italy, France and Spain, use the fingertips kiss. This is when they bring their thumb and fingertips together, kiss them lightly and with enthusiasm, then toss their hand in the air. It’s a positive gesture that means something is delicious or wonderful, and is most often used to describe the taste of food.
In much of southern Europe, as well as in Spain, people are very affectionate, even with strangers. Physical contact is very important in Spain and Italy. Friends will greet each other with hugs and kisses, even men and men. Conversations happen at a close distance, and if you take a step back in Spain it is considered rude. People will often interrupt, but this is not considered rude – although, it’s best you don’t try it yourself.
The eyelid pull is when you place your finger in the center of your eyelid and pull the skin downward, is common in France, Italy, Spain and Greece. However, in France and Greece the signal is more of a warning, in order to highlight they are watching you, or keeping an eye on you. Whereas in Spain and Italy it is considered a friendlier warning that someone is clever or aware.
Lifting your chin up and brushing, or flicking, your hand underneath it is a common gesture in Italy and is a mildly-insulting way to tell someone no. In France this gesture is known as “the beard” and it means the gesturer is putting on display his masculinity.
Informal queuing is common in Spain and Italy, which means people will force their way to the front and unless you proclaim to be queuing, you will not be recognized. Queuing for some things, such as the bus, is not honored in many parts of Europe. Unlike in England, you will find an orderly queue for most things.
Clenching your fist and jerking your forearm up as you slap your bicep is considered a rude, masculine gesture. In southern Europe it’s a lot like giving someone the middle finger. In England and Germany it is a rude and threatening gesture telling you to “get lost” and can also be a sexual gesture about women, but it is usually only used for this meaning without a woman’s presence.
In most European countries a head nod signals a nod in agreement with something, however, in some parts of Eastern Europe, such as Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, it actually means the opposite – no. This is an important one to know before you try to agree to something and end up disagreeing!
Tapping your nose in most countries in Europe means that something is “top secret” and should not be spoken of, although in Italy it actually means “watch out!”. It also originally meant that someone is clever or is considered a threat in France and Belgium and it can also mean that you and the other person performing the gesture know something that no one else knows.
The “OK” Sign
The “OK” sign is fairly common throughout North America and the UK, where you join your thumb and forefinger to make a circle, and leave your three fingers straight, and is usually considered one of the positive European hand gestures. However, in France this actually means zero, nothing or worthless and it is also insulting in Greece, Italy and Turkey.
Travel Like A Pro with Auto Europe
When traveling in Europe, the language barrier can make it difficult to communicate with the locals effectively, but hopefully with a little training in understanding European hand gestures and body language, you’ll be able to enjoy your travels more thoroughly, knowing how to express yourself with subtle language cues, and effective body language. Along with worldwide car rental deals, hotel accommodation bookings, and international airfare tickets, Auto Europe works hard everyday to provide travelers with helpful insights and travel tips to make your next vacation, your best vacation ever.