USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Hand Gesture’
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Hand Gesture – Korea

My informant was born in South Korean, but moved to America when she was 16 years old. She explained to me how when she first moved, she was very confused by some of the cultural differences including hand gestures.

In America, we wave people over with our palms facing up. A similar motion that is common in western culture to beckon someone over is curling the index finger. However, in Korea both of these are considered extremely rude and degrading. They typically use the same hand motions to gesture over dogs.

Respect is a huge attribute in Asian culture. It is deeply rooted in family and demonstrated formally through gestures and language. Therefore, using the “American wave” on a human is equivalent to treating or calling them an animal. Koreans will signal people over by having their palm face down, and using a little “digging” or small swimming motion with their hand. Another way to describe it would be having your palm face down and waving it up and down vertically. If you tried calling a cab in Korea using the Western style wave, you would undeniably be rejected and ignored.

At first, my informant thought that Americans were “kind of arrogant and snobby.” She didn’t realize that there would be a significantly different meaning in something as trivial as gesturing someone over. She eventually caught on that people were not intentionally trying to be rude, and that it was just part of western culture to call people over using the palm facing up.

This made me really think about how important it is to be culturally aware, especially while traveling. There are so many little differences that may seem insignificant, but is actually really important to recognize. It helps us better understand our global peers and can prevent us from accidentally offending others.

Gestures

Awkward Tortoise

Awkward tortoise is a hand gesture one does in an uncomfortable social situation.

My informant was a 19 year old college student.


What’s Awkward Tortoise?

GB: Awkward tortoise is something you do with your hands when you’re in an awkward situation. You stack your two hands and wag your two thumbs in opposite directions. I think it’s because if a tortoise were to move its flippers that way, it wouldn’t go anywhere, just in circles, and I guess that’s awkward


 

The Awkward Tortoise hand gesture has also been referred to as “Awkward Turtle”, although the informant was not aware of that. There is also an alternative version in which both thumbs move in the same direction.

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