Flipping The Pájaro: A Multicultural Guide To Rude Gestures (PHOTOS)

Evolutionary anthropologists tell us that gesture is much older than speech. When early humans had something to say, they said it with their hands. And because manners didn’t come along until a great deal later, it seems safe to assume that much of what people said was rude. Perhaps they wanted to disparage Og’s performance in the bison hunt or the size of Bog’s manhood. We don’t know what signs they used, but we can be sure they used some. By the time history was being recorded, its rude hand gestures were, too. Many of these are still in use today. Ancients insulted one another using many of the same gestures we use now, often with surprising gusto and frequency. In ancient Rome, the gesture popularly known as the Finger was so common that it even had a name: digitus impudicus.

Over the next several thousand years, the language of hand gesture continued to evolve, with each region of the world developing its own colorful vocabulary of rude signs. These gestures express not just vulgar sentiments but deep truths about the culture itself. The insults a given culture favors are very revealing. Just as the Eskimos have many words for “snow,” so the French have an infinite number of gestures to express ennui; the Lebanese, romantic desires; and the British, an urgent wish that you “piss off.” The language of hand signals continues to grow and change, with new gestures entering the vocabulary all the time. New gesturers enter as well. For most of history, hand gesturing—even the nonvulgar variety—was an almost exclusively male activity. Happily, in much of the world, that is no longer true, as more and more women proudly give the Bird.

Hand gestures point, quite literally, to where we’ve been and where we’re going. They are especially relevant today. The advent of air travel means that one can find oneself in a distant country in a matter of hours and knowing not a single word. We hope this book will make your travels easier—and much more interesting. It is easy for an innocent abroad to commit an unforgivable faux pas. Learn the gestures that follow, and you will be innocent no more; your missteps will be made with purpose and intent. Let the offending begin!

"Rude Hand Gestures of the World: A Guide to Offending Without Words " By Roman Lefevre, with photographs by Daniel Castro, was published by Chronicle Books and is available for purchase on Amazon.

Check out a selection of gestures below.