Why is it that some, like Judie Haynes from the US, would want to teach the young to watch out how they gesture when they meet people from a different culture? She gives 10 examples that are “perfectly acceptable” in the United States but rude, or obscene, in other cultures. However, her examples are sometimes incorrect, always exaggerate differences, and show no appreciation for Man’s ability to meet strangers and tolerate cultural differences.
A meeting between Americans and scary foreigners? (source)
Is it part of a xenophobic program of fear? Are people really convinced they won’t be able to establish fruitful communications with foreigners? Or do we just like to point out the differences between cultures? For my own piece of mind I will assume this last suggestion is true in most cases.
Do I think that cultural differences are not interesting? No, they can be interesting, but I think there are more interesting things to tell about gestures and culture than just point out different meanings for emblematic gestures. Desmond Morris, in his Gestures, their Origin and Distribution (1979), at least provides great information about the spread of meanings of a gesture throughout Europe and a history. See this example of The Thumb Up. If you want to talk about culture and emblematic gestures, follow his example and do it right.
Some trust in God, and their God alone. Few may trust in humans, but I thank God I am one of those happy few. I believe people are able to handle cultural differences if they are both willing. Gestures will seldom lead to misunderstandings. In fact, I will raise the reward for evidence of a gesture mix-up to 150 euro.
I think gesturing will often help you communicate to strangers, and clarify your intentions. It can form the basis of acquiring an unknown language. I felt confident when I went to Italy and Russia that I could jumpstart communications through gesturing. I quickly picked up a bit of Italian and Russian like that and to top it all off: I learned the meaning of their gestures without any problems.
A meeting between New Zealanders and kids from Yemen (source)
When my kids grow older I hope to teach them not to be afraid to walk up to friendly strangers and talk to them. We are all humans after all. And I will tell them to talk with their hands if words fail. Gestures are not our enemy, they may well be Man’s best friend.