I'm planning on traveling to the Middle East soon, and I'm wondering if any of the countries in the Middle East change the meanings of regular "universal" body language. "Universal" body language refers to Western body language.

E.G. Shaking your head means Yes in 1 country, no in another

Is this a problem to worry about? If so, in which countries?

  • 2
    Well the shake head differs in India vs say, New Zealand, so what's 'regular universal' then, if we're comparing to that? You're probably going to have to reword as it's pretty broad at the moment and inviting a ton of different answers. Some people even disagree over what the 'Middle East' is - perhaps you could identifiy specific countries?
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Feb 7, 2015 at 12:01

1 Answer 1


We in the Middle East follow international standards :)

Shaking head means no, nodding means yes, thumbs up means thumbs up, middle finger means the same as in the US, same as in the V sign.

That's not the case for "crossing fingers", which could be interpreted as vagina, but only when the context is about that.

Also, the "OK" sign means "I will kill you later", not a literal kill, but more like I will deal with you later.


However, we have some additions as well. For example, to tell someone to wait:


same hand gestures can also mean "Wait, I will deal with you later", used by parents to threaten kids when they do something nasty.

One important thing is raising feet or pointing them into people, this is considered a major insult. Just avoid raising your feet towards people (eg. resting it on a table while your foot is directed to people), for example:


A live example was Obama's visit to Turkey, when he without intention did something similar, then the Turkish prime minister did not like that gesture so he did the same.

Those are the most common differences, most of the rest are just fine. Middle easterners are fans of Hollywood in general and there will be nothing that won't be understood here, or at least tolerated when it comes from a westerner or a foreigner in general.

  • 3
    Reminds me of this. :D
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Feb 7, 2015 at 10:32
  • I suggest to replace "the western world" with "parts of the western world", as the gestures you present are far from universal even within "Western" countries. Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 7:39
  • @O.R.Mapper feel free to do edit, I would appreciate it. Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:35
  • @MeNoTalk: I have added a note to restrict the claim. An exhaustive list (or even a thorough examination for other places) would probably deserve its own question(s), if at all it is fitting in the StackExchange format. Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 8:45
  • I edited to replace the cumbersome note by a reference to the US.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 7:53

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