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Didn't take long - Sock and awe....

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  • Didn't take long - Sock and awe....

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    World's rich tapestry of insults

    Hugo Rifkind | December 16, 2008
    Article from: Times Online
    OW!" As Austin Powers famously said to the assassin Random Task. "That really hurt! I'm going to have a lump there! You idiot. Honestly! Who throws a shoe?"
    Muntazer al-Zaidi throws a shoe. Or rather, he threw two. Both were aimed at the head of George W. Bush, as he gave a press conference in Baghdad this weekend.

    "This is a farewell kiss, you dog," the Iraqi TV journalist shouted. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

    It was a powerful sentiment, rendered strangely ridiculous. Because he threw a shoe. Who throws a shoe?

    Arabs do. In fact, in the global scheme of things, we in the West (you, me, George Bush, Austin Powers) are somewhat in the minority in not having a problem with feet at all. In much of South East Asia, it's considered rude to cross your legs while sitting down, for precisely this reason. In the north Indian town of Dharamsala, my friend Hamish was once nearly lynched by a mob of pacifist Buddhists for accidentally pointing the soles of his feet at the Dalai Lama. True story.

    As you may already know from that slightly tiresome bank advertisement, it's very easy to cause foreign offence, inadvertently. In Japan it's rude to blow your nose (nobody seems sure quite why) and, as in China, rude to leave your chopsticks standing up in a bowl of rice (because this mimics a funeral rite). In the Philippines, you can be arrested for beckoning somebody by curling your finger, because this suggests that he or she is a dog.

    In much of southern Europe and North Africa, the "thumbs up" sign doesn't mean "yes" or "super" or even "I'm doing a Paul McCartney impression", but in fact means "sit on this". The "this" in question does not necessarily refer to your thumb. In Turkey, the "OK" circle sign refers to be the bit they'd sit down with. Almost everywhere else in the world, it is deeply rude to point. In India, you are expected to point with your chin. Somehow.

    Such is the potential for inadvertent rudeness when dealing with another culture, the poor shoeless Zaidi should probably consider himself lucky that Bush didn't just pick up the missiles and say: "Excuse me sir, you seem to have dropped your shoes." Effective rudeness requires research. If you are going to insult somebody from another culture, it really pays to know what you are doing.

    You can go a long way with hand gestures. The extended middle finger is fairly widely understood, but the same cannot be said for our beloved British V-sign, which even Americans might associate with Winston Churchill, or hippies.

    Other global alternatives include the French fist (clench, punch to the sky, put your other hand in the crook of your elbow) and the Greek moutsa, which is similar to the American "talk to the hand", but with the strong, unspoken insinuation that the hand contains something. Something brown.

    You may also wish to try the Indo-Pakistani coutis (open your hand, put your thumbnail against your teeth and say "cutta"), or one of the many, many Arabic alternatives such as the one where you clasp the fingers of your left hand, and touch this fist with your right forefinger.

    Italians are particularly fond of what has become the rockstar Satan sign (clenched fist, first finger and small finger extended, twist your wrist) which is traditionally supposed to suggest cuckoldry.

    Pretty much all of these, it goes without saying, are intended to convey the message that the victim really ought to go off and have sex with something and/or endure the ordeal of something else having sex with him or her.

    Exceptions to this rule include the Japanese four-fingered stab (similar to the moutsa but with the thumb tucked in against the palm), which suggests that the insultee is some kind of four-legged beast.

    There is also a little-known Saudi Arabian sign which involves making a V-sign with the thumb and forefinger of one hand, and placing this over the side of the other, which roughly translates as "I shall ride you as I would a donkey". This should also be non-sexual in nature, although that obviously depends on exactly how fond your interlocutor is of his ass.

    The best spoken insults, internationally, also tend to be uniformly sex-based, although there does seem to be a heart-warming diversity therein. Almost all of these are obviously unprintable in a newspaper such as The Times. Still, if you really need to know the best ones, I suggest you fire up Google and search for the Bulgarian one about what you should do with a "Carpathian long-haired she-wolf", the Spanish one about from where you should suck butter, and the Mandarin one about just why you ought to wear a green hat.

    Or just Google the phrase "Arabic insults". Some of those will make your eyes water. Don't even get me started on the one about "your mother's ribcage". In a midst of a list of the kind of horrific things that Arabs have figured out how to say to each other, the phrase "Surmayye a'raasac" rears up like an old friend. It just means "A shoe is on your head".

    In the case of George Bush, it was about six inches out. No idea how you'd say that.

    The Times