Hand Gestures Across Cultures


Hand gestures are an integral part of the way we communicate with others.  We wave to someone to say hi, give a thumbs up to express our approval, and cross our fingers when we are hoping for good luck.  Though some gestures are universal, many are specific to a culture or shared across multiple cultures.  The same gesture can have different meanings in different cultures, while different gestures can have similar meanings.  This evidence of multiple existence and variation, together with the way in which these movements are passed down naturally through those who belong to a specific culture or subculture, makes hand gestures an interesting example of folklore.  We were very interested in learning about how hand gestures differ across cultures and seeing if we could find any ties behind the cultural context and the meaning of the gesture.  

For our project, we each collected gestures from our own experience, as well as our family and friends.  We were not interested in collecting gestures from specific cultures, but instead wanted to collect a diverse set of gestures from a diverse set of countries and cultures.  Some of our informants knew about the gesture from their own experience growing up as part of a certain culture, while others learned the gesture while studying abroad or through other experiences.  Context is very important when learning about these gestures, so we made sure to ask many questions about when the gesture was used, what its meaning is, how someone might respond, etc.




  • Bailey Burke
  • Sophie Byrne
  • Roy Dritley
  • Avery Vanacore


  • Hand gestures
  • Gestures
  • Customary lore
  • Communication
  • Cultures