A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

Various personal interests and public info, gesture, signs, language, social robotics, healthcare, innovation, music, publications, etc.

Reward for Gesture Mix-Up Evidence

Of course they fascinate me, those classic cross-cultural gesture mix-up stories, like OK versus Asshole and many, many others.

I will pay you for a good video of a gesture that was misunderstood

In truth, the stories are always about someone doing something that could have been mistaken for something else. Or someone makes a gesture and is then told his gesture or behaviour is rude or even obscene in the culture he is visiting. That in itself says it all. The gesture was seen and recognized as not intentionally rude or obscene and the producer was informed about the mismatch. We guess the intentions of other people from the situation, the location, their signs of communication (be it speech, gesture or otherwise). So why did the gentle culture teacher point out the mismatch? Well, someone else could have taken offense! Of course, we are not stupid but we are afraid other people might by stupid and genuinely insulted.

The only first hand evidence, like here, is given by people with a commercial interest, for example in exploiting the stories in lectures or courses to business travelers. So, that is why I have put out a reward. Just send me a video, or preferably a link in the comments. If it is good (neither an enacted scene nor with commercial connections) I will contact you and pay you.

Update: I discussed this reward with some colleagues (GL, EO and A). They felt I shouldn’t be the judge so they volunteered to be a panel.

Update: The reward has gone up from 50 to 100 to 150 euro.

ps. Here’s the nice generator

Update – An ‘almost’ example: this bit of cross-atlantic communication between Bush and Merkel comes fairly close. Yet I do not think Bush’s gesture (giving a shoulder rub) was misinterpreted. It is a gesture of closeness, saying it is okay to let your guard down. This can be accepted by the receiver, who is then however in a bit of an underdog position. They both seem aware of this. Merkel, however seems surprised and her response is clearly one of not accepting. Instead of undergoing the shoulder rub and all its implications, she puts her hands up and smiles uneasily. To me this indicates she makes a compromise between shrugging him off and letting him save face.


Twenty Thousand Signs Under the Sea


When in Court, Act Like the Romans


  1. Eric Koenig

    This is for real. My dad was in Venezuela for some professional meetings something like 12 years ago. He and my mom were at a hotel restaurant, and their server asked how their food was. They gave him the okay hand sign, and the waiter got really upset until they ironed out the miscommunication.

  2. Jeroen Arendsen

    Thank you for what seems to be an honest example. I assume it is for real, but I hope you will forgive me for saying: You are not a first hand source, since I gather you were not there. How certain are you the story was not dramatized a bit? And what was the waiters attitude towards Americans? Of course the reward requires evidence, so perhaps your parents filmed it?

  3. Rob Bradshaw

    In 1973 I was deep into the state of Bahia. I was 24 and had been informed of not using the OK sign. We became stuck is a shallow lake after a rainstorm, about 40 miles from the closest town that we knew of. Through the mist came about 12-15 local farmers carrying hoes and machete’s. We asked for their help which was freely given. After a lot of pushing we got back up onto the flooded roadway. I was so relieved. We were all laughing and congratulating that I gave the OK sign. They immediately became quiet and very somber! I quickly gave them the thumbs up while smiling broadly and they responded by resuming their smiles and laughing. We gave them some food and cash and were on our respective ways. I have always felt maybe not a close call but could have been a very unfortunate contact.

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