Books Of The Week

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The Independent Travel
Gestures, the Do's and Taboos of Body Language around the World (John Wiley and Sons Ltd, pounds 10.99) by Roger E Axtell

In Chile or France, do not casually pat your right fist with your left palm as you stand at a bus stop or you will have inadvertently flashed the message "Up yours!" to everyone around you. For this and other such insights designed to protect the innocent abroad, take a look at this extensive book on how gestures vary around the world. The advice ranges from the genuinely informative (when a Pole flicks his neck with a finger, he is inviting you for a drink) to the ludicrous (when an American grips his throat with two hands, it indicates that he is choking; when a Brazilian points an imaginary telescope with his hands it means that he can see a pretty girl). Lessons for the British? Holding one's nose is, apparently, a peculiarly English way of suggesting that something stinks (and remember to avoid shuffling your feet when addressing a group in Wales).

Old Peking, City of the Ruler of the World (Oxford University Press, pounds 12.99) edited by Chris Elder

For those with short attention-spans this anthology of excerpts is a great find: hardly any are more than half a page long. And the fact that they are all period pieces (none relate to contemporary China) does not prevent it from being an excellent companion for latter-day Marco Polos and Peter Flemings attempting to negotiate the maelstrom of freeways and luxury department stores that constitute the modern Chinese capital. The writers - mostly 19th and early 20th-century travellers or residents - lived in a walled city that has now vanished. But the dust storms, the Forbidden City under snow, the curious faces of the masses, the Peking duck and the old men carrying birds in cages leave enough that is still familiar to connect the book with the place.