Social Question

Nimis's avatar

Why is pointing considered rude?

Asked by Nimis (13056 points ) July 31st, 2011 from iPhone

If it’s not accompanied by laughing or jeering, I don’t really get why it’s such a big deal.

Is it seen as a physical extension of the gaze or something?

I’d want to know why someone was pointing at me, but I wouldn’t exactly think it’s rude. And I wouldn’t mind friends pointing at me either.

Do you care if strangers, acquaintances, friends or family point at you? Does it matter if it’s from afar or right next to you?

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19 Answers

Jellie's avatar

Good good question. I assumed that it informs people that you are talking about them and so makes them uncomfortable.

I don’t mind people pointing at me but I do get uneasy if I notice it.

laureth's avatar

Being singled out is something that happens to prey, like a pride of lions picking out the weak antelope for the kill. If you find yourself being indicated for special attention, it can make you uneasy, feeling like you’re about to be prey (even if just for the local gossips). Standing out can be dangerous. It can make you feel powerless, even though we may know (intellectually, but not in our gut) that no harm is meant.

In a polite society, we have to play nice, because we’re all living in each others’ back pockets anymore. You can’t just go out and steal peoples’ stuff, and you can’t go making your neighbors uncomfortable, at least if you want to get along. Not making people feel powerless is something expected in polite society.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I agree with @laureth, but will ad that preventing pointing at people is usually taught to children by mothers who don’t want people to think they are looking at them strangely. Mother doesn’t want to answer any questions from strangers “What are you lookin’ at lady”? just because her child was curious. And children are often curious about handicapped people in wheelchairs, with limps, dressed oddly. Mom doesn’t want any unnecessary attention brought upon herself just as much as pointing others out brings attention to them.

It was so bad with my mother that I couldn’t even point at a cloud or a cool building without getting my hand smacked down.

What @laureth says reminds me of Indians on a hill pointing out which buffalo they want. Or even which lobster I want at the restaurant. But pointing out the path for someone to find their way home shouldn’t be a problem.

The Point is also used by parents who want to scold their children to the degree it leaves an impression of guilt upon them. Makes me wonder what the hidden psychological reasons are behind This Guy pointing at us for the past fifty years. Is he playing God? Is he attempting to cast blame and guilt upon us? Does he want us to feel so shamed that we’ll go along with whatever he wants? The Point wields power over others. The guy in my link could easily be a thug pointing out the dude he was going to attack. “You mine muthafuckah”.

Kayak8's avatar

There are a lot of cultural differences on the “rudeness” of pointing as there are with so many other gestures.

Cruiser's avatar

Because you never know where that finger has been! Eeeew!

KatawaGrey's avatar

Excellent question @Nimis. I have always wondered this as well. I especially wonder this when there are only two people in the conversation. For example, if I am talking to a friend and I say, “Will you go to the store?” and I point in addition to looking at them. I can see how this may be an unnecessary gesture, simply because we are the only two people in the conversation, but it is also considered rude.

laureth's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies – Pointing the way home is fine, because it’s not pointing at any particular person.

And Sammy is pointing at us so we take whatever propaganda he’s spouting all personal-like. I want YOU to join the Army! Me? Why me? It’s harder to ignore, which is perfect for propaganda (which is, after all, a kind of advertising).

ucme's avatar

It’s a federal offence in nudist camps I hear & not done just with a digit either.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

In addition to what @laureth and @Kayak8 wrote, pointing is associated with the uncouth, uneducated and mute from olden times who didn’t have the “civilized” vocabulary to communicate over gestures. Parents also don’t want their children to become lazy and use gestures over words so they snarl, “don’t point! Say what you want/mean.”

Dutchess_III's avatar

It could be viewed as a threat, too. “Get ‘im!”

martianspringtime's avatar

Just because it makes the person being pointed at feel uncomfortable, I guess. I mean usually when a person is pointing at you, they accompany it by saying something to the person with them, so they’re clearly talking about you, and you don’t know what they’re saying. It’s also kind of suddenly putting a spotlight on that person.
I feel awkward when someone points at me, so I try not to do it to other people.

QueenOfNowhere's avatar

Oh my, I had a friend who whispered loudly and pointed all the time. I used to say to her ear: “Jack is right there, he is looking at me, don’t look” and she would point at him and “whisper” and make me deaf. I think it’s rude and inappopriate.

In a general case, I agree with the people above. It makes people feel uncomfortable since they don’t know what’s your problem with them.

mangeons's avatar

It makes the person being singled out feel uncomfortable, they’re not sure if you’re talking about them, and if it’s good or bad, etc. For all they know, you could be saying anything from “Look at that horrendously ugly guy!” to “Oh, I love that woman’s top!” It just tends to make people feel uncomfortable and more self conscious.

El_Cadejo's avatar

I never got that, I’ve never found it offensive or anything. My brother worked at disney and wasnt ever allowed to point at anything, They always had to gesture with their whole hand or do a three finger point. Quite stupid if you ask me.

Pandora's avatar

I know in Japan I was told never to point to anyone in a store because they would take it as you calling them a thief. I don’t know if it true but I don’t find it difficult to believe that it can be seen as rude. I know I once pointed to a shop owner as I walked away because he behaved rudely and he did not look happy.

Jellie's avatar

LMFAO @ three finger point!!!

Nimis's avatar

@KatawaGrey Exactly! I was talking to my family and pointed at everyone for emphasis. (“And you! And you! And you!”) My sister scolded me about how pointing was rude. I thought it strange because I thought that was only in instances when you’re pointing to strangers who might be mistaken why you were pointing at them.

@uberbatman Hahaha…yes, that is totally Disneyland for you. (I used to work for them too.)

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Nimis: Right? It seems to me that in that situation, it’s used for extra emphasis, especially in a large group. You want to be certain that they know who you’re talking to. I’m with you. I just don’t get it.

thorninmud's avatar

It increases self-consciousness in the person being pointed at, which is almost always an uncomfortable experience in social situations.

Humans are one of very few animals who “get” pointing—that it means “direct your attention there”—and we get it very well. Our attention almost reflexively lets itself be directed by the pointing finger. In social situations, we feel most at ease when we’re un-self-conscious. Social interactions tend to go most smoothly when we can kind of lose ourselves. When we’re acutely self-conscious, things get awkward. Seeing a finger pointed toward you directs your attention back toward you, and you’re suddenly transformed into the object of your own attention. Awkwardness follows.

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