How to Recognize an American: Hand Gestures Edition

Americans are very expressive people. Sometimes people appreciate it and sometimes people find us too “in your face.” Regardless, the hands are an important part of how we show emotion. Try your hand at it 😉



Of course you know about the peace sign, which has become an internationally used and recognized gesture (though the reverse peace sign is offensive, for example, in Britain). But do you know about the double peace sign?


Suuuuper American.


Air Quotes


Air quotes are used when 1) saying a word that you mean sarcastically, 2) you are making fun of the meaning, or 3) you are changing the meaning for your own purposes. Take for example this scene from Friends. Ross puts air quotes around the word “accidentally” because he does not think it was accidental. Joey wrongly puts air quotes around “I’m sorry,” which would seem to be sarcastic although he really is sorry.

OK sign


Pretty self-explanatory- means everything is good, great, you are happy, it’s a-OK!

Thumbs up/thumbs down


Thanks, kid, for illustrating both! Everyone knows this sign, which means either that you like or do not like something. This has been immortalized on Facebook with the “like” button. People also use “thumbs up” when they want to hitchhike (stopovat).

Fingers crossed

Crossed fingers have two meanings: 1) That you hope something will happen (for example, in this clip), in which case you show your fingers, or 2) You are lying, so you put your fingers behind your back to signal the lie. Having your fingers crossed behind your back, even if no one sees it, “makes the lie okay” because you are “admitting it” (see, air quotes!).

Czechs and Americans have different ways of expressing meaning 1. In Czech we “hold our thumbs,” in English we “cross our fingers”/”keep our fingers crossed.”

Call me


…maybe? Anyone?

Can also mean “I’m on the phone.”

Heart Hands


‘Nuff said.

Rock ‘n’ Roll


You have surely seen this at rock concerts. Also known as the “Texas Longhorn,” in some countries it means “your spouse is cheating on you.” Don’t make that mistake! Do your homework before traveling 😛


Ah, the eternal facepalm, an important gesture of the 21st century. Homer Simpson does it, statues do it, even polar bears do it. Meaning: What you just said/did is so stupid/sad/funny I that I have no other reaction. Please do not speak anymore.

Example of the stupid facepalm can be found in this clip.


Actually, there are a lot of gestures that can get Americans into trouble abroad. Interested? Check them out here.


    • Hey there, thanks for reading! This is an old post and at the time I intended for it to be silly. Most of these gestures have become international for sure, but I would argue that many originated in the U.S. or were popularized by American content. Would you say you cross your fingers in CZ by the way?


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