Lee Pitts: Be Nice
People the world over use their fingers to communicate; mostly in rude ways. Hip teenagers and Italians couldn’t communicate if they had to wear mittens or a catcher’s glove. The problem is this “finger talk” is not universal the world over. In America the “okay” sign means everything is hunky dory, while in Germany, Russia and Brazil it’s on par with giving someone the finger. In Japan it means that you want change, preferably in coin, and in France it means that you are worthless and quite possibly a drunk. And that’s definitely not “okay”!
If you travel a wide circle you’d be well advised to keep your hands in your pockets. And don’t say anything either. I’ve previously written about the time in Australia when I asked who everyone was rooting for, not realizing that “rooting” is the “f” word down under. Many years ago American Jim Courier committed an even bigger blooper when he said of a player on worldwide television, “There’s two guys in the locker room rooting loudly for her.”
Constantly staring at someone is the norm in the Middle East and it’s a compliment to a pretty girl in America, but do it on a New York subway and you’ll get a knife in your gizzard from a gang banger. And remember that sign from your childhood where an uncle would pretend to take your nose off and he’d show it to you between his fingers? Do that in many parts of Latin American and you’ll get your nose knocked off for real; except in Brazil where it means good luck.
In America if you turn your glass over on the bar it can mean you’re through drinking. Do the same thing in an Australian pub and it’s a challenge that you can lick anyone in the place in a fist fight. While you’re in Australia do like I did and just drink from the bottle.
You don’t have to travel overseas to get in trouble by making the wrong gesture or saying the wrong thing. Many of the gestures people make in big cities are misunderstood by us country folks. For example, if you’re at a sporting event in New York city and grab your throat with both hands it’s a sign that a team or player is “choking.” The same sign when seen in a small town cafe is an alarm that you’re gagging on a tater tot and need someone to perform the Heimlich maneuver on you.
On mean urban streets and NBA basketball courts you’ll see young men engage in highly orchestrated “handshakes.” They’ll hook the ends of their finger’s, twist their wrists, tickle their palms, do a 360 degree turn in the air, do a few high-fives and finally finish off with a hard bumping of fists. But can you picture two farmers in the coffee shop saying howdy that way?
It’s the same thing with those air kisses you see the Kardashian sisters blowing in Hollywood. I guarantee that if a lady greets an old crusty cattleman by fake kissing him on both cheeks he’ll think she can’t see or has bad aim.
If you rudely honk your car horn in the big city it means get the heck out of the way, or watch where you’re going, you jerk. Whereas the honking of a horn in the country is more apt to be a sign to the cows that their dinner is now being served. It could also mean the local high school football team won again, someone just got married, or the brakes are out in my truck and, pardon me, but I’M COMING THROUGH!
In the country, where lawyers are outnumbered by cowboys and urban folks only stop if they have car trouble or hit a cow, if you see a finger raised above the steering wheel it’s probably a sign of friendliness, not hatred. We know not to tailgate or we’ll get a face full of bumper when the friendly old cuss in front stops suddenly to talk to his neighbor. We don’t go in for a lot of touchy-feely stuff with strangers either and we’d advise any urbanite who gets lost out our way not to pet the car alarm in the back of the pickup or you may not have any fingers left to communicate with.
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