February 2, 2007

Cultural differences: Signals

Pointing with the finger to give directions is common in North America. "It's over there on the table." "Turn left at that Texaco station." "Talk to the women over there in the red dress."

Here in Honduras, many people point with their chin, as pointing with the finger, even at an inanimate object, seems to be considered rude. Accurate directions from points with a chin are just a little harder to decipher.

In the USA wagging the index finger negatively at someone is usually reserved for teachers indicating a wrong answer or that someone has been a bad boy.

It is also used in Honduras to indicate that the person disagrees or that they think you are wrong. However, wagging of the Honduran index finger usually is in response to questions like "Would you like some more coffee?" or "How about some dessert?"

Sorry, but in this situation, "No, thanks" strikes me as much more polite. I'm still a little taken aback at this one and always feel like I've done something wrong.

The other day, El Jefe asked me if I wanted some of what he was eating. Trying to make a point, I frowned big time and shook my finger back and forth at him. Knowing what I was doing, he shrugged and said, "Yeah, big deal."

An interesting hand gesture is used by some Hondurans to indicate "hurry up" or "come on!" It is a rapid downward shaking of the hand with the first finger flapping against the second and making a sound similar to snapping the fingers. I cannot make my fingers flap together to save my life, but here is a video so you can practice.

Chances are very good that you will not be able to do this.

I've had to use a lot of hand signals with workers over the years when they can't understand my accent. Most common North American gestures are used here and/or readily understood, such as:
  • goodbye (adiós) − wave

  • come here (venga)− backward wave

  • so-so (más o menos)− side to side movement of the hand

  • okay or I agree (está bien)− thumb and index finger touching with the other three fingers raised

  • just a little bit or just a moment (un poquito o un momento)− thumb and index finger about an inch apart with the other three fingers curled down
The thumbs up signal and the universal finger signal are both used here in Honduras.

Do you have any other hand signals to add to the list? Are there any that you consider rude?
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