"'This wine is fine,' these five agree. The Sicilian standing at left pinches his cheek to show his pleasure; the American girl in center makes a sign of satisfaction with familiar gesture. Brazilian at right pinches the lobe of his ear, the seated French girl kisses her fingers, and the Colombian at lower right happily pulls eyelid."
Caption from LIFE. "'This wine is fine,' these five agree. The Sicilian standing at left pinches his cheek to show his pleasure; the American girl in center makes a sign of satisfaction with familiar gesture. Brazilian at right pinches the lobe of his ear, the seated French girl kisses her fingers, and the Colombian at lower right happily pulls eyelid."Al Fenn—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
"'This wine is fine,' these five agree. The Sicilian standing at left pinches his cheek to show his pleasure; the American girl in center makes a sign of satisfaction with familiar gesture. Brazilian at right pinches the lobe of his ear, the seated French girl kisses her fingers, and the Colombian at lower right happily pulls eyelid."
Caption from LIFE. "'This wine is fine,' these five agree. The Sicilian standing at left pinches his cheek to show his p
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Al Fenn—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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'This Wine Is Fine': Five Different Gestures, One Simple Meaning

Sep 15, 2014

When off on your travels, please take note: across cultures, there are many, many different ways to signal the same idea or emotion with a distinct gesture. On the flip side, there's always a danger that a hand motion or facial expression that's completely harmless in one context means something entirely different—and perhaps something deeply offensive—in another.

Back in 1950, LIFE magazine profiled one Dr. Mario Pei of Columbia University, author of a book titled, The Story of Language. "There are some 700,000 gestures tucked away in different parts of the world," LIFE wrote. For example, a gesture that means "So long!" in some Latin countries (palm up, fingers moving back and forth) is very similar to the American gesture for "Come here." A tugging of an eyelid by a Brazilian signals the warning, "He’s a wise guy,” but the same gesture by a Colombian can mean, in effect, "That's wonderful!”I

I never considered carrying a gesture guide along when I travel abroad, but it might be a good idea.

Different meanings for similar gestures.LIFE Magazine (Photos: Al Fenn) 

Delia Mandia is a native New Yorker and NYU undergraduate student whose passion is her global nonprofit organization, Night Night Monster. She also enjoys competitive gaming (she is world-ranked) on her custom-built, hydro-cooled PC, and attending Stargate conventions.

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