Etiquette Blunders for Bodyguards Working Internationally (Gestures)

Bodyguard Blogs new ongoing feature on Etiquette & Protocol.  Like any other profession, image is important in our business and first impressions are lasting ones.  Knowing how to shoot is great, but if you can not get a second interview with an employer, all those great skills might go to waste.  To assist, we’ve once again enlisted the services of writer and etiquette coach, Susanne Dancer.


Q:   As an American, I’ve learned some gestures that are totally acceptable in the US mean quite different (and sometimes offensive) things in other part of the world.  Can you share some examples for others in my profession so they won’t make the mistakes I have?  – Joseph W., Certified Protection Agent

A: Joseph, you’ve asked a great question about how tricky some gestures can be.  Now let me first start out by saying that there are some gestures which are seen to be universally offensive all around the world, however I’m sure most Close Protection Agents don’t use them anyway (smile).  With that said, there are some gestures, for example winking, which we take for granted but are seen to be offensive in other cultures.

Spending any time on a Detail in Africa?  Avoid taking or passing anything with your left hand. Objects are to be handled or passed with the right or both hands, but never the left hand, as this is considered the unclean hand (the hand used for personal hygiene). Do not eat, shake hands, gesture “hello” or give someone something with your left hand as it is seen as something used to do dirty things. It is this belief that informs the African proverb, “You do not use the left hand to point the way to your father’s village”, which means: learn to appreciate and admire what you have.

Among Islamic cultures, and other societies which traditionally sit on the floor, it is improper to allow the sole of your foot to point at another person.  They consider that as the bottom of the shoe touches the ground, it is considered to be one of the dirtiest part of the body.  If you find yourself in this setting, sit with your feet flat on the floor, showing the soles of your shoe to anyone as it is considered by some to be rude.  Remember when the reporter threw his shoe at Former US President George Bush?  He wasn’t trying to necessary harm him, he was trying to insult him.

Throughout West Africa, the thumb lying on the index finger of a vertical fist with arm extended is equivalent to the American “middle finger”; insult is emphasised by motioning the thumb up (like “thumbs-up”) and down repeatedly.

When in China the following Western gestures that are taboo include pointing the index finger–use the open hand instead; using the index finger to call someone-use the hand with fingers motioning downward as in waving; finger snapping; showing the soles of shoes and whistling is considered rude.

Juanita Ecker of Professional Image Management has written a short guide to hand gestures which can be found at and is extremely useful with some of the more common gestures most Americans can use in everyday life.

The following website has an excellent guide for countries all around the world

Previously:  Dinner Party Etiquette for Executive Protection Agents

Previously:  Tipping Etiquette for Executive Protection Agents

Previously:  The Bodyguard Wardrobe

Susanne Dancer is a former butler and administrator who has trained with the Guild of Professional English Butlers.  Her work in Etiquette has taken her from Brisbane to London with an emphasis on International Protocol.  She is regularly consulted as an expert in her field on subjects such as how to dress appropriately while working with High Net Worth individuals, and the delicate subject of table manners.

Have an etiquette question for Susan?  Ask it HERE.



Susanne Dancer

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