Faux Pas Fridays: The Moutza

Like the nodding the head, another familiar gesture that holds a vastly different meaning in Greece is the open hand.

In Canada, as well as several other countries, the open hand is used

  • to get someone’s attention or hail a taxi (by raising it in the air)
  • to say hello or goodbye (by waving it)
  • to stop someone (by extending it in front of you)
  • or even to gesture that you would like five of something

In Greece, however, the open palm is an ancient gesture of the upmost disrespect, known as the moutza (μούτζα).

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The origin of the moutza

The moutza dates back to the Byzantine Empire, around 330AD. In the Byzantine penal code, a common punishment for criminals was to parade them through the streets sitting backwards on a donkey. To further the disgrace, cinder (moutzos) was smeared on the faces of these criminals by collecting it in the palm and then wiping the open hand down their face. Bystanders also flicked cinder, ashes, dirt and feces in the faces of the criminals as they made they way through the streets.

This symbol of an open palm and extended fingers thus became an insult, symbolizing that the person it was directed at was a criminal, dirty, worthless, disgraced, etc.

The moutza today

Today the moutza continues to be a large insult throughout Greece. The closer the palm is to the receiver’s face, the greater the insult. The insult can also be doubled by what is known by a “double moutza”, where both hands are “moutza” and one palm rests against the back of the other hand. The insult is often made with words such as “take these”, “here” and “there you go”.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

This photo shows crowds giving the moutza to the Greek parliament after sharply raising taxes in light of the Greek debt crisis. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

How do you avoid making the moutza?

Anything you would originally do palm out, instead is done with the palm facing you and the back of the hand facing out. Also, avoid stretching out your fingers too much, just to be certain no one misreads your message.

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