Grabbing your throat with both hands is the universally recognized symbol for choking. Likewise, a palm facing out means “stop” (“in the name of the love” optional). And now, thanks to the Salahi’s, shaking President Obama’s hand means “galling reality show stunt cum international incident.” (There is more use for this one than you’d think.)
I got to thinking about ways we wordlessly communicate with others when I accidentally leaned on my horn at a stoplight several days ago, scaring the bejeebies out of me, my kids and all the other cars at the intersection. One man across the intersection from me seemed particularly affected by my errant blast, looking wildly in my direction. It was at that moment I realized that sadly there is no universal gesture for “oops.” I did my best – shrugging my shoulders, holding my hands up and making a goofy face – to indicate it was just an accident and I didn’t mean it. After a few tense seconds, he burst out laughing and pointed at me. My 7-year-old observed dryly, “He thinks you’re an idiot, mom.” So while I hadn’t figured out how to apologize from a distance, apparently I’d discovered the universal symbol for “moron.” Feel free to write that down for future reference. You know, just in case.
These kinds of gestures are everywhere but nowhere are they as entertaining as in the gym. Due to the twin evils of loud music and headphones, to thrive in a fitness environment it is necessary to familiarize yourself with these signals. Some, like the one-finger salute, are pretty easily understood (it means “I’m a jerk and refuse to re-rack my weights because I think I’m the king of the chest press) but others need some explaining.
The head pat was one of those for me. Any of you who have taken a cardio class like step, Zumba, Turbokick or some other incarnation of dance aerobics have probably seen the head pat. Midway through a class, just when you’ve got your groove thang going, the instructor pats his or her head and – this is the weird part – the whole class starts over from the beginning of the routine!
Let me back up. See, I have this weird affliction that whenever I start to heat up and break a sweat my scalp gets realllllly itchy. I don’t know why. I try to suppress the urge to itch, knowing that it will pass as my muscles get warm and also I don’t want to freak out anyone aerobicizing next to me. So I just figured that all my cardio instructors had the same sweaty scalp issues that I do. (Side note: never shave your eyebrows. You think now that they’re just good for Groucho Marx impressions but really they’re nature’s sweatbands. Don’t ask me how I know this.) It turns out that they were trying to tell me something. It took me years to figure out that the head pat wasn’t just a form of lice that only affected group fit instructors but was actually a signal that means “from the top.” Head = top, get it??
You can’t see me but right now I’m making the “I’m an idiot” gesture.
How about you? Have you ever encountered a gym gesture that you didn’t understand (or just wished you didn’t)? What’s your universal symbol for “oops”?