Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Guess What I'm Pointing At

Number #2 on a list of 10 travel faux pas is to pat someone on the head in Thailand; it's a Buddhist taboo where the head is considered to be sacred, the seat of the soul. Not one I'm likely to be troubled by but carrying on the same theme, and abandoning the numbered list format, it warned about pointing with a finger in Malaysia. You notice this as they sort of close their fist but leave a little bit of the thumb sticking up. A bit like Bob Dole when he was campaigning for the presidency before he lost badly to Clinton.

At least this gesture works because the fist and vestigial thumb are at the end of an arm which has of the directional effect. The article continued with the Filipinos' habit of "shifting their eyes or pursing their lips and pointing with their mouth". And I thought they just fancied me.

My contribution would have been self delusional Asians who point with their noses, or more precisely, their nostrils. The action is to tilt the head back slightly and then jut forward with the neck. Using a gesture, while no doubt suitable for Romans, but adopted by people whose noses can hardly hold a pair of eye glasses is a cultural miss and makes "looking with the eyes" seem inspired.

Turks use a similar nose up gesture (imagine a kind of mildly disgusted tut) as a way of indicating "No". The Japanese apparently say "Yes" but mean "maybe, probably not". The French say "Non" just to be awkward. Working at the United Nations must be an absolute riot.