Turkish Gestures - Not Just The Language
Turkey is not exactly a Sex Pistols/Oasis Gallagher brothers type of society and obscene gestures in public by prominent figures or celebrities are rare. Hande Yener, pop princess and possibly Turkey's 2008 Eurovision entrant, crashed through these taboos whilst on holiday in Ceşme this week. Having given what she felt were enough poses for the paparazzi she finally tired of their attention and with her back facing them flipped them the ''bird'' over her shoulder. A common occurrence in the USA or the UK, the gesture caused genuine shock here, not least because it was by a woman.
The ''bird'' migrated to Turkey when US troops were stationed here at the start of the Cold War and has been propagated by American films on television. The Turks also have plenty of gestures and body language of their own – some are offensive, some functional and friendly, some are warding movements and others are highly respectful.
- Raising your chin slightly whilst moving your eyebrows up and simultaneously tutting with the tongue means ''No''.
- Shaking your head sideways means, ''I don”t understand''.
- A sharp downward nod combined with a longer than average blink means ''yes''.
- If you see someone holding their hand with palm up and bringing fingers in toward thumb, this is a compliment and generally means something is good. It can be done compliment food, nice clothes or a new car. It can also mean that a woman or man is attractive.
- It is very common in Turkey to see two men or women holding hands or arm in arm at walking on the street. This doesn't indicate homosexuality, they are just good friends.
- The ''thumbs up'' gesture is commonly used for hitchhiking.
- If someone holds their arm out with palm facing the floor and makes a clawing movement with their fingers they are trying to indicate tat you should come over.
- To ward off the evil eye, say tututututu (like a series of small spitting sounds) and then pull your earlobe while simultaneously making a noise like you are trying to suck in spaghetti.
- Kissing the back of an elders hands and raising it to your forehead for a brief touch shows respect, it can even be done to a mother or father.
- Placing your right hand over your heart when making a statement or accepting thanks is a respect sign and can mean that of you believe what is being said to you or that you are sincere in what you have said (often used by Tayyıp Erdoğan).
- Handshakes of men with women tend to be on the softer rather than firmer side and some can be positively limp.
- Placing the left hand flat on the inside of the right arm just above the elbow, clenching the right fist and raise the right arm (so as to squash the left hand). This means ''up yours''.
- Stroking the chin with the fingers while staring at a woman is a lecherous pass at them signaling sexual intent.
- Clenching the right fist and the slapping it with the palm of the open left hand means ''I showed you!'' in a very deprecatory manner.
- It is rude to sit with the sole of your shoe raised and pointing at someone because the sole of the foot is the lowest part of the body and is considered unclean.
- It is rude to point at something with your foot except animals.
- Clenching the fist and then pulling that arm backwards and forwards a few times with the elbow kept close to the body and at waist level while referring to or indicating a particular woman means you had sex with her.
- Blowing your nose loudly in public is the height of bad manners.
- The schlap – hard to describe, the right fist is clenched and bent in towards the wrist and inner arm as far as it will go, the left hand is then placed over the knuckles of the right hand and the right hnad is then forced sharply upwards resulting in the left hand hitting the inside of the right wrist with a slapping noise. This means ''I gave you one (sexual)''.
- Think carefully before playing ''got your nose'' with little kids. If you make a fist and put your thumb between your index finger and middle finger, you're essentially saying ''f*** you''. This gesture is known as the fig.
- The gesture created when a circle is formed by touching the forefinger to the thumb does not mean ''OK'' or ''great'', instead it is directed at someone you want to accuse of homosexuality. The ring represents the anus.
Of course some gestures have changed over time, the ''thumbs up'' used to be considered rude and was only used amongst men but with the steady increase in European tourism this gesture has gradually received acceptance with the more Western meaning that it indicates something good.
In some circumstances correctly understanding a foreign gesture can be a matter of life and death and the United States army introduced a training program last year in İraq to help their soldiers learn and give appropriate gestures. The soldiers are taught that typically Western reserved body language could be interpreted by local İraqi people as having something to hide and thus potentially escalating a tense situation. They also learnt that people can approach each other more closely than one normally might in the West and that they should not automatically interpret close proximity in an exchange as a threat.
Turkey instituted it's own body language training scheme in May this year but not for troops, for tax officials! They were given a course in customer service that also aimed to teach them how to spot tax fraud. In a handbook given to them tax officials were given tips on how to spot liars. The book explained how liars tend to shift their eyes and not look directly at their counterparts. Additionally most men will apparently play with their collars or loosen their shirts whilst telling an untruth. One can only assume that they didn't need any instructions in how to recognize the ''bird''.