Few days ago, we exchanged on a hitchhiking forum about gestures that have a very different meaning in other countries. We then realized that we had some funny stories to tell, small moments of embarrassment, misunderstanding, misinterpretation because of cultural differences … Moments that we wanted to share, in our list of the most beautiful misunderstandings in hitchhiking!
The following list is evolving; we will update it as soon as we have new personal anecdotes to tell. Don’t hesitate to share yours as comments!
In Bulgaria, a “no” for a “yes”
In Bulgaria, it happened at the beginning that we stopped a car driven by a nice local man, who did not speak a word of English but seemed very kind, helpful. We took the translator out to ask where he was going and he answered with the name of the city we wanted to go to. Great! We translated: “We want to go there too. Can you give us a ride?” To which our driver answered with a smile, shaking his head from left to right – in a sign that we are used to interpreting as “no”. Ouch, ouch, ouch! We were getting ready to thumb up again elsewhere when our Bulgarian driver opened the passenger door, this time waving to get in the car. Dazed, we got in anyway – before learning later that the meaning of head gestures is reversed for a Bulgarian!
In Turkey, people click their tongue to say no
We go on in the series of misunderstandings to express a no: in Turkey, we really remained doubtful the first times some Turkish drivers were clicking their tongue, when we asked them if they were going to a specific destination… A sign of negation, as we will learn later, which would probably be badly perceived in France: clicking your tongue in a conversation between adults is perceived as weird, if not rude.
In Iran, you should avoid a thumb up
A thumb up in Iran is the equivalent in France of flipping the bird (with the raised middle finger)… It’s extremely insulting! For hitchhiking, we have adapted ourselves with a palm down, as a slow down sign, to Iranian drivers. And even if we took every precaution to avoid any thumb up, it still happened that we were photographed with our thumbs up, or that we answered with this gesture to say “great “or “I like it”! Fortunately, young Iranians who are used to the blue thumb on Facebook, didn’t misinterpret it!
In Southeast Asia, a hand turned close to the head has a different meaning
In Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam, we have seen quite a few drivers twirl their hands close to their heads when they see us on the side of the road: gestures that have a slightly insulting meaning for us, as if we were being called crazy! In reality, these drivers just wanted to say “no, we can’t pick you up”. Finally, we are not so crazy!….
In the Philippines, people point with their lips
We knew how to point something with an outstretched index finger, an insistent glance or to point with the chin in the direction of the object… It was without counting on the Filipinos, who do not hesitate to point something with… their lips! Imagine our faces when we saw a Filipino pulling a kind of duck face in front of the road (we are still laughing!). The worst thing about it? We ended up adopting this lip movement as the new standard for pointing things out…
How to hitchhike easily a car?
* Post written according to our personal experience *