Escuela Las Morochas, Ciudad Ojeda, on the Northeastern shore of Lake Maracaibo Venezuela.
A boy from T&T named Marcel asked me if I knew how to "flip the bird". I didn't.
But even way back then, I hated ignorance, especially in myself. I sighed, put down Barbie and Ken, looked him straight in the eye, and truthfully answered "maybe" (I doubted he meant flipping an actual bird over on its back, but on the off chance he did I was fairly confident I could roll a feathered friend over if you laid it down in front of me).
Thus began my introduction to blasphemous signs. We sat there for quite a while as he explained the variations in technique, ranging from the plain old 'fist closed with middle finger sticking straight up', to the more complex and artistic technique of closing one's fist, with ring and index finger bent at the first knuckle, middle finger raised. The latter obviously required a lot more flexibility, technique and practice. I worked hard that day, determined to get it down pat. I am nothing if not a perfectionist.
What he didn't tell me was that the sign would be considered highly offensive by some. Eight-year-old boys suck that way.
So, being the naive 7-year-old that I was, I skipped into the house that afternoon and proudly proceeded to artistically flip the bird to my mother. Not with the left hand. Not with the right hand. With BOTH hands. Over and over and over and over....
This did not go down well.
If I remember correctly, Marcel's parents and my parents got together and gave us both a very public and humiliating lesson on how NOT to become a moronic, useless, daft, ignorant member of society. Insulting hand gestures being at the top of the list.
I've learned other such insulting gestures since, including the chin flick, the corna (fist with pinkie and index finger extended), the forearm jerk and the "talk to the hand", but always refrained from indulging (it's been hard ... I am French Canadian ... we 'talk' with our hands). But that "talking to" in 1977 beat rude hand gestures out of me.
Realizing that day that I remained ignorant despite having learned something new was a lifelong lesson.
Or so I thought.
Upon moving to Qatar, we were briefed on a few things considered unacceptable, and were made aware of some of these things via online forums, blogs and local info magazines. We knew not to show the soles of our feet, not to proffer the left hand, not to photograph locals, not to use profanity, and not to flip the bird. We respected all of these and thought we had it down pat.
But the July 12, 2013 edition of the Gulf Times made it clear that we still have a lot to learn. Apparently, every time I 'high-five' someone, signal 'ok' by making an 'o' with my index and thumb, or give a 'thumbs up', I risk offending someone.
That's cool. I get it. Different cultures, different perspectives, different perceptions. As I get older I realize my parents were right about most things.
Now I just have to re-program my communication practices and learn how to sit on my fingers while holding down a conversation.
I admit I'm a bit worried about slipping up. You know, when the conversation gets heated, or things get exciting, and you just spontaneously break into a "high five"!
In the meantime, Smilin' Vic has suggested I order a pair of these on e-Bay ....
He just might be on to something ....