] Iraqis are giving passing Americans the "thumbs up" sign,
] which the troops interpret as a symbol of support. But
] many veteran travelers insist that the gesture is a crass
] Middle Eastern insult. How should coalition forces take
] those skyward thumbs?
When I saw the pictures of Iraqis giving the thumbs up to American GIs, this came immediately to my mind as well. Maybe they really are trying to indicate support with an American hand signal. Or maybe not.
In my own travels, I've learned that the difference between giving a positive hand signal and nonverbally cussing someone out can frequently change by no more than a few miles across a border. The "thumbs up" sign is indeed an "Up Yours" sign in many countries. In other areas, the "Okay" signal of making a circle with thumb and forefinger is equivalent to telling someone to go jack themselves off. In Thailand, it's not so much hands, as which ways that someone's *feet* are pointing -- crossing your legs in such a way as to point one foot towards another person nearby is considered a huge insult. And in Malaysia, when I was chatting via sign language with the deaf community there, I soon realized that the reason they kept jumping every time I made the sign for "teacher", was that what in America is the fingerspelling sign for the letter "T", in Malaysia is basically telling someone that they're a piece of excrement!
Indeed, when I arrive in a new country now, one of the first things I do (after learning how to say "Thank You" in the native language), is to doublecheck which hand signals are positive, and which are negative. Otherwise, the first time a local asks me if I want to go to dinner or something, I might be responding unwittingly with "F--k you, sounds like a great idea!"
What Does a 'Thumbs Up' Mean in Iraq?