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15 gestures famously used in Ghana that have different meanings in other countries

Get to know some Gestures and signs that are normal to Ghanaians but are different in other countries.

Gestures are an essential means of communication. And while words might do the job, we still turn to our hands to pass information to each other. But as gestures occur in vastly different cultures, their meanings may be hard for outsiders to find out. Even if the gesture may be the same, the meaning behind it can be drastically modified.

Often these cross-cultural mix-ups can be innocent or humorous, but other times, you may unintentionally insult or threaten someone without even having any clue. Today, we’re taking a look at 15 signs that Ghanaians use that mean drastically different things in other countries.


In Ghana, nodding to music means you love the rhythm of the beat. To some people and other countries like for Americans, nodding to someone talking means you agree with what they’re saying, or it’s just a way to show that you’re actually listening to others. In Bulgaria and Greece, however, this gesture means the opposite—you disagree with what they say.

Middle Finger

Rising the middle finger is a sign people show to others to offend them. This is one of the offensive gestures in Ghana, US and other countries. But don’t get insulted if you’re in China’s sea of middle fingers—it’s finger they usually use to point with and don’t show ill will.

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Crossed Arms

In Ghana, we cross our arms because that is a way people instinctively rest their arms. Crossing of arms may be a mild sign of meanness or rage in America. Also, it’s best, though to avoid this gesture entirely in Finland—it can mean you’re causing trouble or starting a war.

Prayer Hands

Ghana being a dominated by Christian religion, showing the praying hands means you’re religious or showing humbleness or gratitude to someone. When Americans pray, they sometimes place their palms near the chest. Nepal, however, is a traditional and friendly way to greet someone or say goodbye.

V Sign

Originally “v” stood for “victory.” Now it is used as the “peace sign.” You notice it sometimes when people are trying to evoke hippies, and it’s such an iconic part of taking pictures. Time Magazine reveals it originated from the Japanese society.

That being said, please ensure you have your palm heading away from you. In Australia and the UK, this symbol (with the palm facing inward) has had the same significance as the middle finger since at least the year 1330. In those nations, you’ll be saying “F*** You!” which seems to be quite the contrary of “peace.”


Forming a circle with your thumb and pointer finger generally means “OK!” in the U.S. In certain Middle Eastern nations, it portrays the evil eye. However, a more common definition is you’re an a**hole.” This is taken that way in Greece, Spain, and Brazil.

There’s another level of homophobic subtext to Turkey’s gesture. Once famously, Nixon made this first impression to a country. Never do that. White nationalists have recently co-opted the sign for their own purposes also in the U.S., distorting the apparently innocuous original meaning depending on the context it is portrayed in.

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Thumbs Up

In Ghana and America, this generally means “Great job!” In Greece, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia, and elsewhere, it means “Up yours!” If you’d like to be rude, you can put your thumb up to highlight the offensive message, but chances are you would just like to avoid it.

Fingers crossed

This sign also has a similar meaning to Ghanaian and Americans, it’s a very generic way to evoke good luck ahead of a task. In American, nobody does it in except women in tone-deaf romantic comedies, but the concept is still recognized. However, in Vietnam, the gesture is believed to be… explicitly feminine. Consider it a female analogue to flipping someone off.

Hands Below the Table

Ghanaians place their hands anywhere on the table especially when eating. U.S. kids are drilled not to place their arms on the table while they eat.

But in France, it’s respectful to keep your hands on the table, palm down on either side of your plate. When your hands slip below the table, your host will wonder what you’re doing with them.

Using Your Left Hand

Some people are naturally left handed but in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, the left hand is still traditionally mired with personal hygiene connotations. Giving a gift with lefty usually used for toilet paper is a big no-no. A handshake is also not recommended. In places in the United States, using the left hand is normal.

Money Fingers

Money finger gesture is used commonly when the conversation is about money in Ghana and in the U.S. But if you do this in South Korea, they won’t even think you’re obsessed with money. Instead they’ll think you’re romance obsessed, as this gesture indicates “love.”

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Pointing Somebody

Pointing to someone could mean being rude or it portrays a semi-aggressive gesture, especially when it is continuously done on a stranger for a long time in Ghana. However, it is also a sign shown when trying to draw someone’s attention.

However, this motion is considered highly offensive in countries worldwide. For example, in some African countries, pointing at objects is only appropriate, never people.

Waving Goodbye

As hospitable as Ghanaians are, waving goodbye is means sending a farewell to someone. It’s straightforward, unlikely to offend someone. In areas of Europe and South America, this gesture means “no” instead of farewell.

Animal Horns on Head

Ghanaians use the animal horn on head hand gesture when they are making fun of their peers or to be silly. However in Japan, it’s not such a jokey sign. Rather this gesture reflects demon horns, suggesting that someone is extremely unhappy.

Phone Hand

We use the phone hand gesture in Ghana to signal a friend to give us a call. If we’re to mime a phone call, we could take our thumb and pinky and put our hand up to our ear like a receiver. That being said, if you were in Hawaii, this sign could mean relax, while in Germany it means you’re trying to order a beer.

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