Emblems or “quotable gestures” are those gestures that are culturally specific which can be used as replacement for words. That is, the gestures have a direct verbal translation. Obviously these gestures will mean different things in different settings and can range from complimentary to offensive. Studies show us that people lower in socioeconomic status gesticulate, which is the action of using gestures while talking, more often than those with higher status. Usually this is tied directly to education, and those who have a higher level of schooling also have a larger vocabulary so instead of using gestures to express themselves, they use words instead.
The middle finger is an obvious gesture to Westerners and so too is the peace sign (or V-sign) which can also mean victory. However, George Bush senior was famously ridiculed for “flipping” the V-sign as he was met with Australian onlookers. In their culture the same gesture is considered an insult. The V-sign where the palm faces outward has long been an gesture meant to insult but not just in Australia, also in England and the rest of the United Kingdom, Ireland and parts of France.
The “hook ’em horns” where the index finger and little finger are extended and the remaining fingers held down with the thumb is poplar to University of Texas Longhorn fans, but when directed to a married Italian man, means that his wife is having an affair. In North America, the “thumbs-up” gestures can mean “great” or “I need a ride” but for Greeks the gestures means “up yours” and is accompanied by a rapid upward and slower downward motion. Another gesture that has multiple cultural meaning is the “OK” sign where the thumb and index finger come together to make an “O” shape with the remaining fingers flared out. In Western cultures this means that things are “A-OK” but in Russia or Turkey, it describes a sexual insult, specifically identifying an orifice. These select few emblems illustrate the importance of cultural context when it comes to gesturing. Since the signals have a direct verbal translation that varies from region to region, it is paramount when one travels, to make note of these differences to avoid a potentially damaging misunderstanding.