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How Arab Americans Communicate Without Talking or Writing!

posted on: Dec 6, 2017

By: Meriam Helal/Arab America Contributing Writer

Arabs can communicate with each other non-verbally with just hand gestures, facial expressions, and by showing emotions with their eyes. These gestures are quite unique and common. Arabs can almost have a conversation without saying a word. Here are some of them.

1. The “What”

Arabs can ask you “what” “what’s up?” “what’s wrong?” with one small non-verbal gesture. It looks like twisting a light bulb, but it holds a lot of meaning.

2. The “Wait”

Holding your thumb, index finger and middle finger together and rocking your wrist back and forth means to wait in Arab communities. It’s also used often when driving; drivers use this sign to signal to other cars to wait. Arab Americans may get different reactions when doing it in the U.S. as this hand gesture means something offensive in Italian communities.

3. The “You are embarrassing us”

Biting the lip in Arab communities is not sexy; it means you are embarrassing yourself or your family. It may also mean that something went wrong. This is most often used during family gatherings; while you are talking, your mom would do that to you to indicate what you’re saying is inappropriate; she signals you to stop.

4. The “No”

Say hello to the Arab “No”.  It’s done by raising the eyebrows.  This gesture is very simple and is often used. It is sometimes accompanied by the verbal word “no”;  the meaning is still sent and received. If this eyebrows gesture is repeated by males, it would become sexual: I am admiring you.

5. The “okay”

This is the Arab “okay” “great.” It is displayed when someone is greatly pleased by a meal or expressing their agreement on something. This sign should not be used in front of Japanese people because to them it’s an obscene sign. Confusing enough, if you shake your wrist with this hand gesture, its meaning changes completely; it would mean that you’re in trouble and I’ll take care of you later. 

6. The “enough”

In this motion, you bring your hand together as if to clap, but instead, let them touch sideways and part one hand going up and the other going down, then repeat with switching hands. This motion means “Khalas” or “enough” and is signaled when someone is done with a discussion or indicating that there is no more of something.  It’s used instead of saying: Khalas.

7. The “Prayer”

This is the hand gesture Arabs do while they are praying. Whether it is a Muslim or a Christian, this prayer action is universal in the Arab World.

8. The “Pick me”

Arab American students raise their hand in class with their index finger pointed out and the rest of their hand in a fist form. They use the index finger instead of the palm in America.  Arab American youngsters learn quickly to use the palm instead of the index finger to request their turn or ask a question.