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What Hand Signals Should I Avoid When Traveling Abroad?

When you’re trotting the globe, it’s important to know when to keep your hands to yourself.

Thumbs up

In parts of Latin America, West Africa, Iran, and Sardinia, a thumbs-up doesn’t mean “Hey! Good job!” It’s more akin to flipping someone the bird. A friendly thumbs-up has landed lots of unwitting travelers on the wrong end of angry glares.

The OK sign

In many countries, the okay sign is anything but okay. In the Middle East, it’s a threat. In Turkey and Germany, it’s basically means, “You’re a jerk!” In Brazil, it’s just like giving someone the finger.

The peace sign

If your palm faces outward, the V-sign can symbolize peace. But in the UK, if you make the mistake of turning your palm inward, it means quite the opposite – a ruder version of “Take a hike!” If you’re ever in a pub and want to order a pair of drinks, don’t flash the bartender two fingers. You might accidentally order yourself a knuckle sandwich.

An open hand

Extending your arm and exposing your palm may seem like a cordial way to wave hello, but in Greece, it’s a not-so-cordial sign of disrespect. Centuries ago, the Byzantine Empire shamed criminals by painting their faces with black cinder, ash, dirt, and dung. Today, an extended open hand basically means you want to spread that concoction on your foe’s face.

Sign of the horns

Horns are great if you want to tell someone to rock on, but find an alternative if you’re in the Caucuses, Italy, Greece, or Spain. Over there, devil horns mean, “Your loved one is a cheater!” That’s because during the middle ages, men with cheating wives were shamed by donning horns.

Image credits: Thinkstock

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The Indo-European language family includes most of the languages of Europe as well as many languages in Asia. There is a long research tradition that has shown, though careful historical comparison, that languages spanning a huge linguistic and geographical range, from French to Greek to Russian to Hindi to Persian, are all related to each other and sprung from a common source, Proto-Indo-European. One of the techniques for studying the relationship of the different languages to each other is to look at the similarities between individual words and work out the sound changes that led from one language to the next.

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Nintendo made news this week by subtly announcing that Mario is no longer a plumber. In fact, they're really downplaying his whole plumbing career. On the character's Japanese-language bio, the company says, "He also seems to have worked as a plumber a long time ago."

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