Cultural etiquette: I'm OK, you're not

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How not to use your hands abroad

You find yourself at an outdoor café in Marseille noshing on niçoise salad when the garçon asks how your meal is. You flash him the "OK" sign. He looks puzzled, you keep eating, he storms off. Faux pas! Now you're sitting there with your mouth full of greens, feeling like an oaf.

What just happened? Well, our "OK" may be the best-known (non-vulgar) hand gesture in the United States, but in the south of France it means "worthless" or "zero." Same thing goes for China. If you were in Germany, the "OK" hand signal is such an insult that you might end up wearing that salad. In Mexico, it means "sex," and you'll only get more confusion in Japan, where it means "money"--because the circle formed by your thumb and index finger resembles a coin.

Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Tunisia, Russia, Paraguay, Malta, Singapore, Spain, and Greece are other spots where it's not a good idea to flash the "OK" (usually because it refers to certain body parts and constitutes an insult). So "OK" is not OK everywhere, OK? If that's too confusing, just take a tip from the waiter, and leave the "OK" gesture at home.

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