Estonian linguists have thought of very rare language books. What should you do if someone runs their finger across their throat in a very meaningful manner? You should, of course, grab for the Little Estonian-French Gesture Book by Eva Ingerpuu published this year. The thick book includes all international gestures. The author also says that only a small number of those are used in Estonia. So we’re not a particularly gesticulating people.
Because the book was published with support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of France, it also includes the French translation of Estonian gestures. For example:
A THREAT. Description of the gestures: shakes a fist at the conversation partner. Meaning of the gesture: you’ll get beaten up (however, also used in a joking manner between friends). Frequency of use: used infrequently.
Verbal equivalents: “Tu veux la bagarre!” (You’re asking for trouble!), “Ça va faire mal!” (You’ll get hurt!), “Je vais te faire la peau!” (I’ll give you a pounding!). In this case, a French tourist facing someone threatening him on a street at night always has the option to dig out the Estonian-French gesture dictionary and thumb through it to find the correct place. The comment “also used between friends” should be calming, while the hint “used infrequently” causes a feeling of dread – used infrequently, but now on me. But a proper Frenchman wouldn’t be in any hot water in this night-time situation either.
Thanks to the gesture book, he could respond to the person threatening him with a gesture common among Estonians, in the case of which one hand is rubbing the top of the other arm. This gesture means “Je t´emmerde!” (Screw you!). In this awful situation, it might not be a bad idea to prove your superiority by using a gesture described even by the old folk as such:
only a fool is called with a finger. This gesture is “Viens ici!” (Come here!) – direct your hand toward the person and move just your index finger towards yourself, keeping the other fingers motionless in your palm. The warning in the book, however, says: it’s a familiar gesture that can in certain situations express superiority and be offensive.
The poor tourist may also use the gesture “T´es mort!” (You’re dead!). For this, you have to pull the side of your hand across your throat. In the beginning of the sixteenth century, some Caribbean Indian tribes used the gesture to express deep respect. Spaniards who dropped by to visit, however, saw it as a shockingly unambiguous.