Wrong use of hand gestures abroad

A long time ago, I once went to Albania. Now I hear you thinking, what on earth would you do in Albania? Well, my parent’s friend’s daughter was going to get married with a guy from Albania, but they both live in England. Are you still following me? Yes? Okay good. They really wanted a traditional wedding and since a lot of family of the groom lives in Albania and most of them didn’t have enough money to travel to the UK, they decided to get married in Albania. 

So we received the invitation for the wedding and me and my parents flew over. The first day went really well, because we were picked up by the groom’s cousin whom was very friendly and could speak a little bit of English. We had to make a long drive from Tirana to Korça where the wedding would be held. In total we were there for 5 days, so one day we went to stroll around on the market and this was the first time I truly felt like an alien. All the Albanian people were staring at us, because we really fell out of place. Me and the bride’s sister both have blonde hair and really light eyes.They probably have never seen that in Albania, or at least not in the little town where we were. 

Anyway, we arrived at a little fruit stall on the market and wanted to buy some fresh apples. The apples were very tasty so we wanted to tell the woman who was selling the apples. But without being able to speak English we tried with hand gestures. In The Netherlands, if you want to explain that something is tasty you put your hand next to your cheek like you are going to slap yourself and then wave with it. The woman freaked out a little bit and looked very scared and told us “no! no!” a lot of times.

We were confused and didn’t understand it, so we walked away. A little disappointed in not succeeding to tell the woman she had very good apples. 

We had a lunch later that day with the happy couple and we told the groom about what happened. He started laughing really loud, because apparently it means you want to have a fight with the person you’re making that hand gesture to. It means no good. Later he told us that if you want to make the hand gesture for tasty you have to touch your cheek with your index finger and turn it from left to right. Another thing we didn’t know was that when you want to nod “yes”‘ you nod horizontally and when you want to nod “no” you nod vertically. 

This guy saved us from a lot of awkward situations, because it’s very confusing if you want to tell someone “yes” but you keep nodding “no” in their ‘non-verbal’ language. 

So I suggest that if you go to a foreign country where they don’t speak English or barely, to do the research for what gestures to use. So that you’re nodding the right way and telling someone something is tasty and not accidently telling them to fight you. 

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Smartling.com asked me to share my story about my experience in a non-English speaking country where I had trouble with communicating. 

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