Things not to do in Vietnam #1: “Crossed fingers”

DSC_3676The act of crossing ones fingers is a common one to many western cultures but I had a little trouble once trying to explain it to some eastern English learners. To describe it in simple terms I used it as an example of wishing someone ‘good-luck’ but later I realised that it’s actually more than that. It’s a feeling, a wish of hope or good luck for yourself or someone else. I then taught them the phrase – “I’ve got my fingers crossed for you” (and even toes for that extra oomph of luck!)

The ‘crossing of fingers’ is said to date back hundreds of years when it was used to be a lot more common for people to hide their crossed fingers behind their back while lying. This was the best way we could discreetly represent a crucifix and when telling a tiny white lie, it was allowing God to witness it, instantly cleansing the fibber’s, saving a later trip to the confessional box. In this regards it’s similar to praying, for our own redemption or for the good outcome of another.

The UK’s National Lottery logo – not really acceptable in Vietnam

They use the same hand gesture her in Vietnam too but it is seldom used… if ever. It also means something quite different which might bring giggles to your Vietnamese friends but it’ll evoke an entirely different feeling if displayed to a stranger. When you cross your index and middle fingers over each other here it actually represents ‘genitals’ – male or female and when held it in front of your face or simply shown to someone it translates to a simple but effective “Fuck You”!

For all intents and purposes it’s the Vietnamese equivalent of ‘flipping the bird’ or flashing an upright middle finger to some bastard who just pissed you off. But be cautious it’s not used as casually as we do – it’s usually a highly offensive and aggressive display whatever the situation. I’ve also been warned that if you direct this to someone in anger be ready for a huge fight as the person on the receiving end will pretty quickly get upset.

For now I’m not game to test the doubt I have in my friend and her words of wisdom. Next time some clown cuts me off in downtown Saigon I’ll be keeping both hands and fingers tightly on my bikes handle grips and just quietly swear to myself.

I think he was doing it for the shock value…

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