Pointing the middle finger at someone is regarded as rude and downright disrespectful in the United States. However, not all countries perceive this hand gesture as such. In some countries in the Middle East and Europe, it’s customary to point the middle finger at another person. Here’s what the hand gesture means in different countries:
The middle finger is a brotherly gesture in Japan. When used in the context of Japanese Sign Language, it’s translated as ‘ani’ to mean older brother. Sometimes the Japanese alternate two middle fingers in the air to mean siblings. In sign language, it’s translated as ‘kyoudai.’ The translation originates from a Japanese practice of assigning family names to all the fingers:
- The thumb — the father
- The index finger — the mother
- The middle finger — the brother
- The ring finger — the sister
- The little finger — the baby sibling
Germany takes things a little far when it comes to the middle finger. It’s regarded as an insult punishable by the law. Under German’s insult law, using curse words and insulting gestures like the middle finger and sticking out the tongue is illegal.
The gesture is known as flipping someone off and is a phallic symbol used in the past to belittle and insult somebody. If found using this hand gesture and are incredibly aggressive, you could attract a fine of 600-4000 euros.
Extending the middle finger is a rude gesture in China. The Chinese see it as a sign of boredom and disrespect because they use one finger when pointing at animals. However, the context of using this gesture can define its meaning.
If defining it in a religious context, extending the middle finger isn’t offensive; rather, religious people use it when meditating. Similarly, in Chinese Philosophy, the middle finger symbolizes prosperity, while in Medicine, it represents the body’s neck, head, and trunk.
The French also find the middle finger gesture offensive. It’s called le majeur in French, but natives use the more offensive Latin phrase le doigt d’honneur when hurling insults. Two theories explain its origin.
The widely publicized one explains that English soldiers used the middle finger to mock the French after being defeated in battle. French historians disagree with the myth saying its roots can be traced to ancient Rome. Romans used the middle finger to denote a sexual threat to the person it’s directed.
Surprisingly the Russians use the middle finger to point at someone and emphasize a matter. Russians use the gesture, oblivious of its meaning in other countries. It was the case for a Russian speedskater, Daniil Aldoshkin, who displayed the middle finger to celebrate his team’s victory during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, unaware of its offensive meaning.
Like most other countries, Brazilians find the middle finger extremely offensive. It’s one of the rudest gestures you can use in Brazil. It has the same meaning as making a circle with a thumb and the index finger, which Brazilians also find offensive. Although Americans use it to signal OK, the gesture has insulting connotations in Brazil.