Posts Tagged ‘hand gestures’

Body Language – Just as Important

January 11, 2010

Speaking with each other, we do not only use words and facial expressions, but also our whole body. Being a very expressive people, the Greeks use their arms and bodies all the time when talking and anyone that has been to Greece can testify to that. Body language is not a universal language, however, which sometimes gives cause for misunderstandings when Greeks and other nationalities are communicating. For example, nodding when saying yes does not always work as the Greeks have two different head nods when saying yes and no, which are quite difficult to interpret for a foreigner: “yes” is a slanting, downward nod and “no” tilts the head backwards, accompanied with lifted eyebrows. Watch out with the latter, though, as that is generally considered a very arrogant way of saying no!

Another classic is the rudest hand gesture in Greece: thrusting one’s palm towards someone’s face, emphasized further by slapping the other hand on the back of the first hand. Do not attempt doing this unless you know someone incredibly well, not even as a joke. It is much, much worse than showing one’s middle finger, for example. This particular gesture even has a name: muntza, and a verb: muntzono!

Historically, this gesture goes back to the Middle Ages when sinners and criminals would be put on a horse and then paraded around town. People would pick up mud from the ground and slap in onto the horse and the unfortunate rider, thus showing their disgust with the culprit. Sometimes, similar slaps of mud or tar would be put on the walls of brothels. Fortunately, this custom was abandoned ages ago but the hand gesture remains, signifying one’s complete and utter loathing of someone. The muntza used to cause misunderstandings between Greeks and tourists, as tourists tend to use a similar gesture when a driver lets them cross the road. Nowadays, the Greeks are used to it, though, and know it is just a sign of gratitude.

On a more positive note, if you want to show someone your appreciation for, let’s say, their food there are two nice gestures. The first is simply waving your right hand around in the air whilst smiling and the other is kissing the tops of your thumb, index finger and middle finger. Joining these three fingers symbolises the Holy Trinity and is also how the Greeks hold their fingers when making the cross sign. The Orthodox cross themselves in the opposite directions from Catholics: head, heart, right shoulder then left.