Muntazer al-Zaidi threw a shoe at George W during a press conference in Iraq a couple of weeks ago. I don't know if you remember Iraqis throwing their shoes and the fallen statue of Saddam Hussein? Great tradition to my mind, specially if it's a powerfully scented sneaker, talk about adding insult to injury. It is however strangely ridiculous. Because he threw a shoe. Who throws a shoe?
Arabs do. In much of South East Asia, it's considered rude to cross your legs while sitting down, for precisely this reason. In the Buddhist faith it's also considered the height of rudeness to point the soles of your feet in the direction of a priest or heaven forbid, the Dalai Lama. In Japan it's rude to blow your nose (nobody seems sure quite why) and, as in China, rude to leave your chopsticks standing up in a bowl of rice (because this mimics a funeral rite). However, it seems perfectly acceptable to spit in public! In the Philippines, you can be arrested for beckoning somebody by curling your finger, because this suggests that he or she is a dog. So much for dogs being the best people. In much of southern Europe and North Africa, the "thumbs up" sign doesn't mean "yes" or "super" or even "I'm doing a Paul McCartney impression", but in fact means "sit on this". The "this" in question does not necessarily refer to your thumb. In Turkey, the "OK" circle sign refers to be the bit they'd sit down with. Almost everywhere else in the world, it is deeply rude to point. In India, you are expected to point with your chin.
Effective rudeness requires research. If you are going to insult somebody from another culture, it really pays to know what you are doing. You can go a long way with hand gestures. The extended middle finger, better known as 'giving the bird' is fairly widely understood, but the same cannot be said for the beloved British V-sign, which even Americans might associate with Winston Churchill, or hippies. Invert the hand and it means 'up yours' and not in a supportive way.
Other global alternatives include the French fist (clench, punch to the sky, put your other hand in the crook of your elbow) and the Greek moutsa, which is similar to the American "talk to the hand", but with the strong, unspoken insinuation that the hand contains something well shall we say 'less than savoury'.
You may also wish to try the Indo-Pakistani coutis (open your hand, put your thumbnail against your teeth and say "cutta"), or one of the many, many Arabic alternatives such as the one where you clasp the fingers of your left hand, and touch this fist with your right forefinger. Italians are particularly fond of what has become the rockstar Satan sign (clenched fist, first finger and small finger extended, twist your wrist) which is traditionally supposed to suggest cuckoldry.
Pretty much all of these, it goes without saying, are intended to convey the message that the victim really ought to go off and have sex with something and/or endure the ordeal of something else having sex with him or her.
Exceptions to this rule include the Japanese four-fingered stab (similar to the moutsa but with the thumb tucked in against the palm), which suggests that the insultee is some kind of four-legged beast.
There is also a little-known Saudi Arabian sign which involves making a V-sign with the thumb and forefinger of one hand, and placing this over the side of the other, which roughly translates as "I shall ride you as I would a donkey". This should also be non-sexual in nature, although that obviously depends on exactly how fond your interlocutor is of his ass.
It's interesting that the best 'spoken' insults revolve around sex. Bulgarians recommend nastification with a Carpathian long-haired she-wolf" then this is the nation who also coined the phrase "You're as ugly as a salad" (Grozna si kato salata). Not sure what they're eating but my garden salad looks very pretty thank you. The Spanish however, like to bring poo into the equation: "I shit on your dead" (Me cago en tus muertos) "I poo on God" (Me cago en Dios) Me cago en la leche," meaning "I poo in the milk." "I poo on your whore mother" (Me cago en tu puta madre - erm my daughter has a T shirt with this on it!)
The Chinese however are more cryptic: "Your mother is a big turtle" (Nide muchin shr ega da wukwei). . . basically turtles don't know their fathers so it's a sweet way of calling you a 'bastard' or "Wear a green hat." (the traditional garb of brothel owners)
An insulted Serbian may suggest "Jebo ti jeza u ledja" (May you fuck a hedgehog) but they could curse you by wishing that your house be on CNN "May your house be live on CNN" (Da bog da ti kuca bila na CNN-U)--this essentially means I hope NATO will bomb your house. Finns are very practical as one would expect of the Finnish: "Piss into a transformer" (Kuse muuntajaan) That's gotta make your hair stand on end!
Australians? Well we're not very clever. We'll use a one word insult such as 'bogon' or 'drongo' but we've appropriated the usual anglo swear words and insults. If we're feeling creative, we might tell you that you have a 'face like a fridge door' or are as 'ugly as a bucketful of smashed crabs' or perhaps that you're 'sharp as a beachball' or 'lower than a snake's armpit' but then we'd be being polite! Then again, we add 'mate' to everything so even insults don't sound so discriminating.
Frankly, I just like the idea of throwing a shoe . . it adds insole to injury.