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-   -   Innocent gestures can translate poorly, traveler warns (http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=29203)

snopes 21 April 2008 03:11 AM

Innocent gestures can translate poorly, traveler warns
 
Quote:

In Sydney, Australia, I simply hailed a taxi, opened the door and jumped in the back seat. The driver narrowed his eyes. "Where to, mate?" he asked in a voice that could chill a refrigerator.

In Marrakech, Morocco, I crossed my legs during an interview with a government official. Immediately, a hush fell over the room.

In a restaurant in Mumbai, India, all I did was reach for the nan. A diner at the next table shot me a look that stuck 2 inches out my back.

It took years before I realized what I'd done.

It turns out that in each case I had, unwittingly, committed a faux pas. To varying degrees, I had offended my hosts. My only comfort is my ignorance. I take solace in Oscar Wilde's observation that a gentleman is someone who never gives offense -- unintentionally.
http://travel.latimes.com/articles/la-tr-insider20apr20

ganzfeld 21 April 2008 03:16 AM

From the OP:
Quote:

During the Middle Ages, it was thought that French soldiers would permanently disarm English bowmen by cutting off their middle and index fingers, the ones they used to draw the bowstring. Consequently, the English were said to celebrate battlefield victories and taunt the French by displaying these two digits intact.
Sounds like another tale to me.

musicgeek 21 April 2008 03:18 AM

Quote:

During the Middle Ages, it was thought that French soldiers would permanently disarm English bowmen by cutting off their middle and index fingers, the ones they used to draw the bowstring. Consequently, the English were said to celebrate battlefield victories and taunt the French by displaying these two digits intact.
I take it this quote from the linked article is what put this thread in the "Urban Legends" forum. At least the author didn't try to foist off the "pluck yew" line as well. :rolleyes:

snopes 21 April 2008 03:24 AM

Quote:

I take it this quote from the linked article is what put this thread in the "Urban Legends" forum.
No, if that were the case, I would have put it in the History or the Military forum.

I put it here because we don't have a UL forum for "Travel" or "Culture."

- snopes

Logoboros 21 April 2008 03:38 AM

I tend to think that most of these kinds of pieces overstate the degree of offense caused.

--Logoboros

Bee 21 April 2008 04:09 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Logoboros (Post 585221)
I tend to think that most of these kinds of pieces overstate the degree of offense caused.

--Logoboros

I tend to agree. I would think that many people would cut outsiders a great deal of slack. A (male) Chinese friend of mine, in learning social customs among American men, failed to observe that patting each other on the butt is generally reserved for sports-related contexts. Not so appropriate as a general greeting in the workplace. :eek: But the guys just kind of laughed it off and explained the faux pas to him at a more private moment.

Beachlife! 21 April 2008 04:30 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Logoboros (Post 585221)
I tend to think that most of these kinds of pieces overstate the degree of offense caused.

--Logoboros

I entirely agree. These article tend to imply that people from other countries are rigid in there expectations and have no clue that cutltures differ in such thngs.

From my experience in Australia in particular, I'd think most Ozzie cabbies would probably just ask the guy if he was an American and then tell him why he knew that.

ganzfeld 21 April 2008 04:39 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Logoboros (Post 585221)
I tend to think that most of these kinds of pieces overstate the degree of offense caused.

Not so. Once I blew my nose on the French Ambassador's lapel and he was furious. I had no idea that was not acceptable there.

Penny 21 April 2008 04:42 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Beachlife! (Post 585255)
From my experience in Australia in particular, I'd think most Ozzie cabbies would probably just ask the guy if he was an American and then tell him why he knew that.

Beach, are you an American?

How did I know? You spelt Aussie as "Ozzie" :p

(Oh, all right, I might have already known your nationality through other means...)

Beachlife! 21 April 2008 04:52 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Penny (Post 585263)
Beach, are you an American?

How did I know? You spelt Aussie as "Ozzie" :p

(Oh, all right, I might have already known your nationality through other means...)

Ozzie, as in land of OZ. Isn't that the 'proper' spelling and all? ;)

I hear you all can't sheep dragons either...

Esprise Me 21 April 2008 04:55 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bee (Post 585239)
I tend to agree. I would think that many people would cut outsiders a great deal of slack. A (male) Chinese friend of mine, in learning social customs among American men, failed to observe that patting each other on the butt is generally reserved for sports-related contexts. Not so appropriate as a general greeting in the workplace. :eek: But the guys just kind of laughed it off and explained the faux pas to him at a more private moment.

I agree that some travel writers overstate the degree of offense taken, but don't you think it's a traveler's responsibility to study up on the local customs before visiting? Yes, people will probably cut you a lot of slack, but why would you want to risk offending people unnecessarily and create ill will toward your own people? It really baffles me how many people jet set around the world without bothering to learn even a few words of the local language, much less the habits and gestures that could get them into trouble.

Beachlife! 21 April 2008 05:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Esprise Me (Post 585268)
I agree that some travel writers overstate the degree of offense taken, but don't you think it's a traveler's responsibility to study up on the local customs before visiting? Yes, people will probably cut you a lot of slack, but why would you want to risk offending people unnecessarily and create ill will toward your own people? It really baffles me how many people jet set around the world without bothering to learn even a few words of the local language, much less the habits and gestures that could get them into trouble.

I don't think anyone has suggested otherwise.

Though honestly, anyone who thinks they can spend a few hours of studying to understand the nuances of another culture is being quite naive.

I have also found that even with serious preparations it's not so difficult to make a 'mistake' anyway. If one is used to crossing his legs, it's easy to do so without even thinking about it. Gestures in particular can be an issue when trying to communicate without a full command of the language.

I have been at the other end of many of these cultural misunderstanding. The one that comes readily to mind was a gentlemen who used his middle finger to indicate the number one. It was far from offensive and when we had a moment alone I explained it to him and we had a laugh over it.

Matt H. 21 April 2008 06:17 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ganzfeld (Post 585203)
From the OP:Sounds like another tale to me.

In my experience, the taunt works the other way. We were in a British-controlled sector, and upon entering post one day, we gave the "Word" sign (a sideways victory sign) to the Brits at the entry-control point. They were nonplussed. That evening, we asked the British EOD team that we played poker with why the offense taken, and they told us about the amputation of fingers by the French.

Esprise Me 21 April 2008 06:22 AM

Most people could do better than most people do.

Tonight I waited on a table of French people. They spoke no English--literally none; I had to wrack my brain to remember my one semester's worth of French in college, because an offer of "water" was met with a blank stare (and you should have seen me trying to convey the concept of "crab.") They didn't believe me when I tried to explain that one dish would not feed four people; stereotypes of American excess apparently prevailed over me actually showing them the dish in which their pasta would arrive (hence, several dishes had to be ordered and eaten in succession.) They pointed to everything with their middle fingers. They also thanked me profusely for the service but left me two bucks on a $120 tab. So, with tipout, I actually paid four dollars for the privilege of catering to their ignorance. I don't mean to pick on the French; I see this sort of thing every day, from people of every nationality. (I've seen my fellow Americans behave egregiously overseas, too, in case anyone feels the need to point that out to me.) I'm just saying an awful lot of people really need to try harder.

ganzfeld 21 April 2008 06:23 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Matt H. (Post 585304)
In my experience, the taunt works the other way. We were in a British-controlled sector, and upon entering post one day, we gave the "Word" sign (a sideways victory sign) to the Brits at the entry-control point. They were nonplussed. That evening, we asked the British EOD team that we played poker with why the offense taken, and they told us about the amputation of fingers by the French.

That's because the taunt never had anything to do with British or French or bowmen. It simply means "up yours (with these two fingers)" in the same way that the middle finger or fist is used. This whole story of bowmen is exactly that: just a story.

songs78 21 April 2008 06:28 AM

I think its kind of cute to think that when you are entering an Aussie cab you will get an Aussie driver.

I had better luck with English speaking cabbies in Europe than I would in Seattle.

But overall this article is junk. Especially this portion.

Quote:

"It is a common Asian superstition that to place your chopsticks in such a way is bad luck and means that this meal is for the dead rather than the living."
There is no such thing as an Asian superstition. There are Japanese superstitions, Chinese superstitions etc.....You can't lump 2-3 billion people into one culture. Besides only Vietnam, Korea, Japan and China use chopsticks. If you want to feel foolish ask for chopsticks at a Thai restaurant.

Logoboros 21 April 2008 06:40 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by songs78 (Post 585310)
There is no such thing as an Asian superstition. There are Japanese superstitions, Chinese superstitions etc.....You can't lump 2-3 billion people into one culture. Besides only Vietnam, Korea, Japan and China use chopsticks. If you want to feel foolish ask for chopsticks at a Thai restaurant.

While I totally agree that "Asian" is a woefully broad adjective to use here, it certainly seems possible that this a tradition tied to something like Buddhist ancestor worship that is found throughout many different (SE) Asian countries.

I mean, there are plenty of superstitions or beliefs that you could quite fairly call "Western" or "European" even if they don't figure into the cultures of all Western or European nations.

--Logoboros

geminilee 21 April 2008 07:00 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ganzfeld (Post 585306)
That's because the taunt never had anything to do with British or French or bowmen. It simply means "up yours (with these two fingers)" in the same way that the middle finger or fist is used. This whole story of bowmen is exactly that: just a story.

If that were the case, wouldn't the fingers be held together? I always interpreted it as a metaphor for spread legs, meaning again up yours, or get NFSBKed.

songs78 21 April 2008 08:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Logoboros (Post 585312)
I mean, there are plenty of superstitions or beliefs that you could quite fairly call "Western" or "European" even if they don't figure into the cultures of all Western or European nations.

--Logoboros

That may be true but the author of the article went to great lengths to list every single country including Malta but as far as Asia goes it was listed as one monoculture.

In one etiquette class I took, the instructor told us never to assume all of Asia was one monolithic culture and that is the most common fallacy when dealing with foreign cultures. This article does that without explaining that one 1) most of Asia do not use chopsticks 2) most of Asia currently do not practice dead ancestor rituals.

Quote:

If you show up with flowers at Asian homes, you'll probably be welcomed warmly. Unless, of course, you take white chrysanthemums (they're used only for funerals) or you offer an odd number (considered unlucky in some cultures).
Also the book that he relied on was written in 1991. Here are some of the reviews.

In Japan and Korea, the number 4 is unlucky. Number 4 being omitted in some elevators, Generally even numbers are unlucky. In China, the number 8 is lucky. Hence many Chinese are planning to wed on 8/8/08

Floater 21 April 2008 10:34 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ganzfeld (Post 585306)
That's because the taunt never had anything to do with British or French or bowmen. It simply means "up yours (with these two fingers)" in the same way that the middle finger or fist is used. This whole story of bowmen is exactly that: just a story.

Quote:

Originally Posted by geminilee (Post 585321)
If that were the case, wouldn't the fingers be held together? I always interpreted it as a metaphor for spread legs, meaning again up yours, or get NFSBKed.

Desmond Morris once commented on this and wrote that he had no idea how the gesture had arisen as Englishmen, unlike kangaroos, to his knowledge don't have two penises.


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