Behavior and Etiquette: Physical Gestures - Beckoning and American Gestures

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Pakistanis are liberal with hand gestures and facial expressions during discussions. The sooner Westerners can acquaint themselves with some of the gestures, mannerisms, and taboos of the region, the less likely negative social situations will arise. Vulgar American hand gestures are understood and should not be used. Do not burp or spit in public; both are considered rude and insulting. Pounding your fist into your palm or stroking your beard or mustache signals revenge.

Many facial expressions and body movements are universal. For instance, a scowl, grimace or frown means the same thing in Pakistan as in America. As in Western cultures, Pakistanis nod the head up and down for “yes” and left to right for “no”. Winking always has sexual connotations and should be avoided.

To beckon someone, motion downwards with the palm of your hand facing the ground. Avoid pointing a finger at objects or at a person to whom you wish to speak. To point at or beckon others with the fingers is extremely rude and can be construed as a sexual advance.

Tapping or beating on the side of your head may mean frustration in America, but in Pakistan it will be construed as disdain for the person one is talking too. Interestingly, tugging at one’s ear can be a gesture signaling remorse for something that happened [20].

Hand Gestures

Traditionally, the thumbs-up gesture is an offensive insult to Muslims. It is equivalent to using the middle finger in the Western world. More media savvy Pakistanis may understand the Western meaning of an upturned thumb, while others may still use the gesture in its traditional sense.

The OK sign, a circle made with the thumb and index finger, takes on different cultural meanings worldwide. In the United States it is generally accepted to mean all is well. In other cultures it can symbolize the evil eye, suggest a person or thing is worthless (0-value), or act as a lewd reference to a part of a woman's body. As with thumbs up, many Pakistanis have come to accept this symbol to mean all is OK, but it is safer to avoid the gesture entirely.

In America, a popular game to play with children is pretending to steal their noses. But if you were to play this game with children in Pakistan, the hand gesture used to represent a stolen nose would be interpreted as a symbol for a women’s body part.

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