A highlight on the tour of Rundāle Palace is a special lesson to teach the secret language of fans. With ladies in the 18th century having to follow strict etiquette rules set by society, it was not a surprise that the secret language of fans was created. The constant pressure to be perfectly docile and composed in public, there had to be a way to communicate with gentlemen that they were interested in.
The fan has been apart of history as far back as Egypt 4,000 years ago. But, Japan and China are both recognized as where the folding hand fan originated. The fan was then introduced to Europe through trade routes in the 16th century. In the beginning, the hand fan was the practical way to cool a person down. It also had a ceremonial role in Asia. That changed when the fan came to Europe. The purpose of the fan expanded to become a way to show status. The more elaborate designs and expensive materials demonstrated taste and wealth.
Fans in the 18th and 19th centuries out of France became so intricately detailed and designed. Fans were designed with all sorts of materials that were available. These included Bone, ivory, Tortoiseshell, silk, Mother-of-pearl, paper, fabric, straw & feather applique, sequins, brocade threads, lace, tulle, silhouette cutting, engraving, metallic foil finish, wash drawing, gilding, engraving, metallic foil finish, and painting.
In Victorian times, ladies learned how to gain the attention of suiters, flirted, and declined advances through gestures and hand movements using her fan. A fan maker in Paris published a leaflet detailing the gestures and hand movements of the hand fan. The thought is that it was to increase sales of his fans. But more contemporary etiquette books and magazines started publishing the language. Soon women and men both understood the language to communicate when in public. The proper use of the hand fan also was passed down from woman to woman. I love that we have always looked out for each other even since the 18th century.
The Language of the Fan
Carrying in the right hand in front of the face – Follow me
Carrying in the left hand in front of the face – I am desirous of your acquaintance
Carrying in the right hand – You are too willing
Carrying in the left hand, open – Come and talk to me
Covering the left ear with an open fan – Do not betray our secret
Drawing across the forehead – You have changed
Drawing through the hand – I hate you
Drawing across the cheek – I love you
Drawing across the eyes – I am sorry
Twirling in the left hand – We are watched
Twirling in the right hand – I love another
Presented Shut – Do you love me?
Open and shut – You are cruel
Open Wide – Wait for me
Touching tip with a finger – I wish to speak to you
Hands clasped together holding an open fan – Forgive me
Letting it rest on the right cheek – Yes
Letting it rest on the left cheek – No
Letting it touch the right eye – When may I be allowed to see you?
The number of sticks shown answers the question – At what hour?
Dropping it – We will be friends
Fanning slowly – I am married
Fanning quickly – I am engaged
Placing it on the left ear – I wish to get rid of you
Placing handle to lips – Kiss me
Placing behind head – Don’t forget me
Placing behind the head with Little Finger extended – Goodbye
I gave it a whirl and tried to practice my ability to communicate with hand fans. Holding the fan with the right hand is usually positive, where using the left is negative. I could have used some of these earlier this year. Having picked up a couple of fans in Asia, I find them great additions on my travels, mainly for cooling me down. But, I might be using some of these communication messages in the future. More meanings for you include:
- Holding the fan wide open means I like you
- If you hold the fan half-shut, it means I want to be friends only
- Holding the fan completely shut means I hate you
- Striking his cheek with your fan means, How dare you!
- And turning your fan so he can only see the backside means I’ll never speak to you again
- Holding fan in the right hand in front of your face means Follow me
- Holding fan in the left hand in front of your face means Leave me
- Closing your fan and tapping your wrist means Meet me later
- Placing the fan near the heart means You have won my love
If you are interested in practicing these moves or picking up your fan, you can try these out from Amazon.
Learning the secret language of hand fans was a great activity on our tour of Rundāle Palace. The fan gestures and hand movements allowed women to express their feelings to potential suitors whether they liked more attention from them, or they weren’t interested. I enjoyed my time learning the craft. How do you think I did?
If You Enjoyed This Language of Fans Post, Sign Up To Receive Posts By Email or…
Join us on Facebook for regular updates and related articles
Check us out on Instagram to see what we are up to in photos
Follow us on Twitter for links to great travel articles curated just for you
View and purchase your favorite of my travel photos on SmugMug. And if you don’t see the one you want on the site, send me a comment below, and I’ll add it.
Or share this “Learning the Secret Language of Fans” with others by pinning on your Europe Travel Pinterest board!
If you are coming to Latvia for a visit, check out these posts for further travel inspiration:
- Exploring the Riga Central Market
- A Brief Visit to the KGB Museum in Riga – The Corner House
- A Somber Walk Through the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum
- Remembering the Forgotten at Salaspils Memorial Ensemble and Rumbula Forest Memorial
- Rundāle Palace: Exploring the Versailles of the Baltics
- The Top Ten Things to do in Riga, Latvia