Making errors using verbal slang is one thing. Often, what happens is that you are generally attempting to sound cool in that language, but with the slip of a vowel sound, you can change what you think is a cool slang term into an embarrassing face-blushing blunder. Although a mistake of this sort may elicit a few awkward guffaws, it is generally a simple mistake to catch and is easily fixable.
Then there is non-verbal slang. Every country and language also has its form of hand and body motions, or gestures, as a means of slang. Unfortunately, a mistake in the use of a gesture might not be as easy to fix as a verbal slip-up. The problem is that a gesture in one country may have an extremely different, even vulgar, meaning in another country.
The following are some examples of hand gestures that change drastically in meaning when used in America versus some Spanish-speaking countries.
4 Examples of Non-Verbal Slang: Spanish Language Without Words
1. Hands on your hips:
In America, this simple gesture might mean you are annoyed or waiting or even that you are about to stretch out your hips. In Mexico, though, this seemingly harmless gesture means hostility. -Source: Primary Education Oasis
2. Palm facing upward with fingers spread:
In America this hand gesture might mean What?, I don’t know, or Give me some. In Chile, this same gesture is an insult, telling someone that they are stupid. -Source: Primary Education Oasis
3. Hand in a fist with index finger and pinky pointed up:
In America, this might represent bull horns, most notably those of the Texas Longhorns mascot and logo, “Hook ’em Horns.” Teenagers and surfers also use this gesture to say “Cool, dude!” A very different meaning arises, however, when using this gesture in Brazil, Colombia, Portugal, or Spain where this exact same gesture means your wife has been unfaithful. -Source: The Atlantic
4. Index finger and thumb curled and touching with the remaining three fingers up in the air:
In America, everyone knows this as the symbol for ok. In Brazil, this gesture has the same effect as the middle finger does in America. -Source: Cracked.com
So, what’s the lesson to be learned from all of this? If you’re traveling in another country, attempt to speak the language as best as you can, and be willing to endure a few good laughs on your behalf from your verbal errors. Learn from your mistakes and move on. In the meantime, keep your hands in your pockets!
For more information about how to pick up verbal and non-verbal slang in Spanish-speaking countries, check out the following Speaking Latino articles:
1. 4 Gestures To Go Native Chilean
2. Really Argentine or a Fake? 4 Gestures to Tell the Difference
3. Really Argentine or a Fake? 3 More Gestures to Tell the Difference
Check out these other Learning Spanish Slang articles.