It’s quite interesting how certain symbols become the identifying feature of a person, a place, an ideology or a thing in a completely different manner than its original meaning!
Take for instance, the swastika, which most of the western world now associates only as the symbol of Nazis. But if you go to India, you will find this symbol everywhere as it is simply a symbol of auspiciousness in the Hindu tradition! So it came as a huge shock to a neighbor of a friend of mine in Munich, when my friend created the symbol at the entrance of her home with sandalwood-paste, following the tradition of her family in India. It is supposed to bring good energy into the home (or something similar). But in this case, it proved to bring something else :-). It was of course naive of my friend to do that but she learnt quickly and removed the symbol after her neighbor kindly explained to her how it is construed in Germany, for obvious reasons. Long story short, all’s well between them and the neighbor comes over often and enjoys the famous Indian hospitality (that includes endless cups of chai and Indian delicacies) at my friend’s place :-).
So now are you wondering about the title of my post? I’m coming to that. So recently I was in Aachen and I was told about this sign that Aacheners use to greet each other and identify an Aachener if they are outside Aachen! It’s the raising of the little finger, while keeping it curved a bit. See the fingers in this sculpture to get the idea.
It’s called the Klenken. Now you wonder what’s strange about that. Well, the thing is that the history of it is a bit dark. Aachen used to be known for the textile industry. And it had factories that made needles, complementing the textile industry. However, to sort out the defective needles, the children with small fingers were employed. That task required the use of this little finger over extended periods of time. And as the side effect, the fingers of those workers got misshapen. So an Aachener could be recognized by looking at this finger of his! However, over time, there was a decline in the industries and people could save their fingers from getting deformed. But by then people had gotten so used to this that they began to use it as a form of greeting one another. So that’s the short story of the Klenken of Aachen.
By the way, a reddit thread tells me that in a noisy Belgian pub, the same gesture would mean ordering a Pilsner!