18

I grew up in Italy, and there is a gesture I use that I'm wondering whether is strictly Italian or is used/understood elsewhere.

It means either of:

"I know this may bother you, but I'd really appreciate if you could help me"

"Sorry: that was probably my fault"

And it looks like this:

  • making a grimacing face or opening the eyes wide and looking up at the other person

  • while pointing the tips of my two index fingers to one another

I work in an international team and sometimes use this emoji collage in the group chat:

 😬
👉👈

when I'm about to bother someone with a request.

I'm asking this because I'm not too sure the message gets across.


Edit: I can't currently accept any of the (very insightful) answers I received, mostly because they all provide the point of view and personal experience of the author, and some of these experiences are conflicting with each other. An answer with a truly global perspective can – at present – only be inferred by comparing the answers received.

  • 6
    I feel strongly that I've seen that gesture with that approximate meaning in old Looney Tunes cartoons in the US, but I don't know how I'd search for a reference. – ReinstateMonicaSackTheStaff Nov 21 at 20:23
  • Re: close vote -- I don't think the question is, in itself, primarily opinion-based. In principle, there may exist a source (e.g. an academic study) that has reviewed the common response to such gesture. An answer linking to that study would not be opinion-based. It just hasn't been provided yet. – Nicola Sap Nov 22 at 12:15
  • I think that if I read between the lines "I'm not too sure the message gets across" to become "How can I get my message across?" and noting that you have a very inconsistent response to your gesture, the answer is "use words, especially on chat" – Juliana Karasawa Souza Nov 25 at 15:42

12 Answers 12

36

Maybe it's just me, but in the UK I would not understand any of that.

It's completely alien to me.

If you work in an international setting, it might be better to use full words and sentences to express your thoughts.

  • 2
    Yeah, I've never heard of this gesture before in the U.S., either. Prior to reading this question, I would have had no clue what pointing one's index fingers at each other was intended to convey. – reirab Nov 21 at 23:17
  • 1
    noted! I actually live in the UK so that's good to know – Nicola Sap Nov 21 at 23:42
24

I recognized the gesture immediately from the title:

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/shy_finger_twiddling.jpg enter image description here

Some call it “finger twiddling”; it's a self-touching fidgeting behavior and I've seen variations of it IRL (eg joining the palms and tapping the tips of the indexes). It's meant to convey apprehension. Still, I'm not sure I'd recognize 👉👈 in a chat.

I think the 😬 alone does that, and I've used it when asking for a big favor:

😬 Grimacing Face

A yellow face with simple open eyes showing clenched teeth. May represent a range of negative or tense emotions, especially nervousness, embarrassment, or awkwardness (e.g., Eek!).

Grimacing Face Emoji - Emojipedia

  • 3
    Thank you very much! It's interesting to see how the page where you probably sourced the comic panel says "While this trope is most prominent in anime and manga-influenced works, it's occasionally found in western works with an anime-inspired esthetics" – Nicola Sap Nov 22 at 7:36
  • I've seen similar gestures in real life. Editing my answer to expand. – arielCo Nov 22 at 11:52
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    I'm from Portugal and while I don't remember ever have seen anyone do that gesture in real life or in a chat with emojis, I do know its meaning from online images or videos of animes and cartoons. It can be seen for example when talking about something awkward or bothersome or when the person feels shy about bringing something up to conversation (like talking about a crush and fantasising about it). – user7393973 Nov 22 at 12:33
  • 1
    I interpret the bodily gesture as humility, conveying timidity. It's not really about the fingers, but the shrinking of oneself, either sincerely or falsely (ironically?), through the visual reduction of one's width and height by bringing the shoulders, arms, and hands inward. – isherwood Nov 22 at 16:52
  • 1
    @NicolaSap It's from one of David Willis' comics, presumably his current "Dumbing of Age", though it might come from the older "Shortpacked", as this character is prominently featured in both. It's definitely not manga in this case. – Darrel Hoffman Nov 22 at 19:03
13

Disclaimer: I never used or saw such usage of that emoji, therefore my answer focuses on its IRL understanding and offers an emoji alternative that may be better understood in an international context.


I do use this gesture when I want to express my discomfort asking for help or because I did something wrong. I don't know if it's a gesture that'd be generally understood though, as I grew up in France and I don't recall seeing any of my compatriots doing it for that purpose*, either online or IRL.
That being said, I have seen most of my Korean and Japanese college classmates make this gesture in the context you describe. I just have never used or seen this emoji combination online.

If you're afraid there are chances for you not to get your point across, an alternative could be to use the folded hands 🙏 emoji, which is said to be used and understood as an expression of gratitude or asking for help. It's apparently rooted in the Japanese culture, and I have found several sources claiming that it's a standard way for expressing what you desire.

*: In Western/Central Europe, it may be used to talk about people who have feelings to each other (the fingers touching would then represent them getting emotionally/physically connected). Someone in comments mentioned that the fingers moving forth and backwards could also depict people who can't stand each other. So you might want to be careful that you already made your point quite clear before using that emoji combo, as it could be interpreted as something quite different than what you meant.

5

Hmm, in the US, the usual form of a non-verbal "Sorry, that was my fault" signal is a kind of tapping your chest with either the index finger or palm. This is more or less a generic "me" gesture though, and would depend on context to get the "my fault" part across.

The circumstances that I've seen a "pointing two index fingers" together gesture are usually related to nervousness or shyness when asking a question which seems to be more like your first meaning. I wouldn't say it is something people do normally, I think the typical contexts (in media) are someone asking someone else out for a date or a nervous person asking the mob boss for a favor.

3

In the US, I would understand the idea - and I don't want to be rude - but it would strike me as comically awkward. It reminds me of someone writing a stutter into their words to show how awkward they feel.

Perhaps it's a cultural difference, or just comes across poorly in translation, but I would find even your first message overly deferential. Combining that message with your emoji combination would make me very uncomfortable, and I don't suggest you do it.

  • Re: your second paragraph: The OP doesn't actually include any messages, other than the emoji. If the "first message" that you refer to is "I know this may bother you, but I'd really appreciate if you could help me", then that's the OP's translation of the gesture into a sentence, hopefully not a sentence that the OP would actually combine with the gesture. – ruakh Nov 22 at 6:50
3

On top of the very nice answer arielCo provided, general recommendation (from first-hand experience working with 6 different nationalities on a daily basis) is that you always use full sentences to convey what you want and be careful with gestures.

Lots of gestures can have very different meanings depending on the country and you can do a lot of damage before you can catch yourself (or the other person can catch themselves). And you can also have some gestures that are different from country to country.

Examples:

OK gesture (thumb and index touching, all fingers splayed) - means money in Japan, in Brazil it is equivalent of flipping the bird (middle finger)

Rock'n'roll gesture (index and pinky raised) - well, you know what that one means (cornuto in Italian?)

Cuckoo or loose screw - the traditional one is looping index finger around one ear, here in the Netherlands they usually wave 1 or 2 fingers (index or index and middle) in front of the eyes

2

Chinese instant messenger apps WeChat and QQ (both made by the company Tencent) have their own standard emoji set which feature a few emojis which I have never seen elsewhere. One of them is this one, which I think resembles the gesture you describe:

shrunken

Since virtually everyone in China uses one of these apps (or both), I would expect most people in China to be familiar with this emoji and the gesture it mimics. I'm not sure exactly what it's supposed to convey, but I have always interpreted it as a feeling of anxiety about what you are about to say. The English name for this emoji is "shrunken".

Here is a full list of the emojis in the set:

emoji list

1

This is a Japanese gesture, and has infiltrated other countries due to globalization.

arielCo identified this gesture as a "finger twiddle". A quick google image search of the term reveals an overwhelming abundance of anime images (ignoring the Simpsons images and references that incorrectly associate Mr. Burns' finger steeple with twiddling). Anyone who frequently watches anime or reads manga or has any cultural connection to Japan would immediately recognize this gesture.

The meaning of the gesture is exactly as you have described it, and how much a given person understands the gesture depends on their familiarity with Japanese media content. As I said before, due to globalization the gesture has spread throughout the world and been referenced many times by pop culture and one need not directly associate it with Japan to recognize it.

0

As an American, the emoji collage:

 😬
👉👈

communicates to me that you are either stuck in a Chinese finger trap and need assistance or you wish to sword fight; hint, not metal swords.

I don't know how it would be interpreted in an international setting.

However, if you made this expression in person then I would understand it in the way you described.

Above all else, emojis are unprofessional and unnecessary in the workplace:

The bottom line from this study: Smiley faces in texts or emails may not help you seem warmer but may make you seem less competent.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2017/08/15/using-emojis-at-work-beware-of-this-risk/#351a5b263eca

0

In the US, a similar gesture and meaning would be pointing at oneself with both fingers, with an accompanying grimacing or bashful expression.

I would not immediately recognize two fingers pointing to each other, but may be able to get the meaning from context and situation.

0

I have gamed/worked with people from all over the world. I don't remember ever coming across that emoji. Although I probably have seen it, I can tell you is not common and not everyone will understand it.

If you want an answer from a global comunity point of view, the answer is:

No, is not common across many countries/cultures. Very few emojis are understood across a lot of countries, universally.

However if someone where to come to me acting like you described. I would understand it.

There is a difference between real life and the emoji. In real life the general body language tells the story, even if you never saw it before you could probably tell its meaning and see that the other person is trying to tell you something and is not feeing all that comfortable about it. (saying sorry or asking for help, etc)

Someone said this is a Japanese thing, I am not sure about that; to be honest I think is related with how kids behave. Finger fidgeting, playing with the tip of the foot, etc. The emoji however probably is Japanese, on that topic I bow to better expertise.

Now, I feel this is part of how you talk and how you interact and you would prefer not to give it up. Because it probably comes to you naturally. I actually had a similar experience with this emoji: XD

I am a bit of an old timer when it comes down to emojis and in general I don't use the images use the letters.

Long ago when I started working with people from other places over the internet, basically remote teams I had issues a couple of times where people thought I was angry or rude when I was just "business". I realized this was because of the way I expressed myself on writing is nothing like what I do when I talk, all smiles and all. You lose all the non-verbal communication. I didn't want to cause any discomfort or undue friction with my coworker so I started to use emojis to convey emotion. If you see a smiley face is easier to imagine the other person is not angry.

Since I type very fast I normally used the letters and not the actual images. Most people understand very common ones like: :D :P :) :O etc, so it inmidiately improved my relationships with coworkers. However since at the time I used to talk with some friends that liked to use XD, a lot of my coworkers and people I knew in general got confused by it. Especially because I was using the letters and not the image.

Also you have to remember in a very diverse group you will older people, or older souls you could say, that may not be so up to date with this kind of thing.

If you want to keep using this emoji, because you really like it and feel it conveys your emotion well, basically because is part of the way you communicate, you can. Just have to adapt a bit:

  • If you are talking with someone that knows you: you continue using it like always.
  • If you are talking with someone new: don't use it, build some rapport, get to know them. Understand their communication style so you know it won't be a problem if you use it.
  • If you are taking with someone that you don't know so well: use the acompanning text. Like use the emoji and reinforce it with the text. Like when you said:

I know this may bother you, but I'd really appreciate if you could help me 😬👉👈

Be careful not to seem rude though. Because when you said:

Sorry: that was probably my fault

Depending of the situation, adding a silly emoji can take away from the seriousness of the apology.

  • If you are in a group chat always use the emoji with the text saying what you feel.

Be ready to explain what you mean with that emoji.

Emojis are all right for chat, but adapt to the person you are talking with. Some people don't like them so use them sparingly. Avoid using emojis in business emails, unless you know them very well and there is certain level of familiarity with the other person. Because if they don't understand it they are not able to ask you right away what you mean. Also since you use it in an "oops" kind of situation, in an email it can actually be read like rude very easily. And as someone else pointed out, it seems less professional.

Chat is ephemere, email is made to last. Chat is a two way communication, email is really not. The other person can not ask you right away what you meant. And if they think something you wrote is odd they will just remain with the weird feeling and probably not ask. Although this can happen on chat since you have less time to think, they most likely will ask before stopping themselves. Also, chat in general is implicitly private, emails can be shared and resent, so you really never know who is going to be reading it in the end.

Someone people said they wouldn't understand it and so they adviced that you shouldn't use it. I don't agree you shoud use it sparingly. The idea of a diverse environment, is precisely that, diversity! If we all abandon everything that makes us unique there is no diversity anymore. Just be careful and don't over do it. And be mindful that a lot of people won't understand it. Just explain it with a smile.

People know I use XD, and find it endearing or funny. I don't use it in work emails or with people that I don't have certain level of rapport because I don't want to confuse them.

-1

I have lived in England all my life and personally I have never seen this gesture. However, I think I would understand it if I saw it. The grimace face is a fairly universal apologetic expression, even if I wouldn't necessarily pick up on the finger gesture.

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