• Yelena McCafferty

Little-known explanation to a Russian gesture

One of the challenges we face in our interpreting work is interpreting gestures. While some gestures such as thumbs up, fingers crossed may be generally understood, others might be too culturally specific and require interpretation.


Have you ever seen a Russian or someone from the former Soviet block tap/click the side of their neck? This gesture means the person is asking for alcohol or in certain situations it indicates that someone is already drunk.


How did this strange gesture come about? A legend has it that after a carpenter was able to fix a cross on the tallest spire of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in St Petersburg, Peter the Great wanted to thank him for his service. When the carpenter was asked what he would like as a reward, he said he wanted a piece of paper which would entitle him to a free drink in any tavern across the land. Unfortunately, he ended up losing the paper after getting blind drunk one day. So the tsar authorised a tattoo on his neck and all the carpenter would need to do then was tap on the side of his neck to show the stamp.


Nobody knows how much truth there is in that story but the fact that it caught on speaks volumes. So next time you see someone use this gesture you will know what it means and its anecdotal origin.

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