Behavior and Etiquette – Other Physical Gestures: Beckoning and American Gestures
Afghans 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 the fist into the palm and stroking the beard of chin signals revenge.
Likewise, many facial expressions and body movements are universal. For instance, a scowl, grimace or frown means the same thing in Afghanistan as in the U.S. As in Western cultures, Afghans nod the head up and down for “yes” and left and right for “no.” Winking always has sexual connotations and should be avoided.
To beckon someone, one motions downward with the palm of the 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.
Thumbs Up and The OK Sign
The thumbs-up gesture traditionally is an offensive Muslim insult. It is equivalent to using the middle finger in the Western world. Some more media savvy Afghans may understand the Western meaning of an upturned thumb and intend for the gesture to mean just that. Other Afghans may 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. Although 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 Afghans have come to accept this symbol to mean all is OK, but it is safer to avoid the gesture entirely.