The Real Reason Why It's Rude To Point

In many countries, pointing is extremely offensive.

Last updated on Jun 18, 2023

man in suit pointing finger mikute / Shutterstock

It is not rude to point at things, but it’s rude to point at people. Or at least sometimes — it really depends on where you live.

Why is it rude to point?

If you grew up in the United States, you were probably instructed by a number of adults to not point at others.

Did those adults ever explain exactly why pointing fingers is so rude? No offense, but probably not.

Everybody knows that adults usually hate explaining things to children because they themselves don't know the answers. But there is a very specific reason why pointing is considered rude, whether it's in the United States or other countries around the world.


RELATED: People Who Point Out Grammatical Errors Are Jerks, Says Study

In the United States, it's rude to point at people because it is associated with blame allocation.

Apparently, a long time ago, pointing the index finger was thought to administer a hex.


There are some instances where pointing is necessary, of course. But, in these cases, it's always more polite to gesture with an open hand rather than your index finger.

If you point a finger, you likely won't administer a hex, but you might insult someone or hurt their feelings.

Hand Gesture Etiquette from Around the World

Hand Gesture Etiquette in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, if you throw up a peace sign with the back of your hand facing forward, it’s incredibly insulting. It's actually the nonverbal equivalent of “up yours” in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and even Australia.

However, a peace sign with your palm facing away from you is considered harmless.


Hand Gesture Etiquette in Malaysia

There are some instances in the United States where pointing is warranted and acceptable. For example, if someone asks you for directions and you point, “That way,” it’s not considered rude.

In Malaysia, however, pointing with your index finger under any circumstance is considered to be offensive and inappropriate. This is why directions are often given in Malaysia by using an open hand or using the thumb, preferably your right one.

RELATED: 12 Powerful Hand Symbols (And The Meaning Of Each)

Hand Gesture Etiquette in Thailand

In Thailand, patting someone on the head is considered to be a serious offense. Travel blogger Talek Nantes explains that in Thailand, the head “is considered the most sacred part of the body.”


Pointing with the toe of your foot is also a disgrace, as the feet are considered the filthiest body part. Pointing your feet towards someone, in general, is also rude.

Hand Gesture Etiquette in Iran

In the United States, giving someone a thumbs-up is seen as a kind gesture of encouragement. However, in Iran, a thumbs-up means an indecent and insulting remark known as "sit on it". This is the equivalent of the American middle finger.

Hand Gesture Etiquette in Vietnam

In Vietnam, crossing your fingers is an extremely vulgar hand gesture to make. When you cross your index and middle fingers over each other in Vietnam, it actually represents "genitals," both male and female.


Hand Gesture Etiquette in the Philippines

In the Philippines, you should definitely not make a single-finger beckoning motion. It’s how people summon dogs or animals, so to beckon someone with a finger is incredibly demeaning.

RELATED: What The Lines On Your Hand Reveal About Your Personality

Izzy Casey is a freelance writer, former YourTango writer and associate editor, and copy editor who received her MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her work has been published in The Iowa Review, Bennington Review, Gulf Coast, Black Warrior Review, BOATT, NY Tyrant, and elsewhere.