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The Chinese term 抓耳挠腮 means something along the lines of: scratching one's ears/cheeks/head in embarrassment or tweaking one's ears and scratching one's cheeks (as a sign of anxiety or delight).

Here are some examples:

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  • What English phrases fit the description?
  • Yeah, scratching your head (figuratively or literally) is generally considered as sign of puzzlement. Stroking your chin is considered a sign of deep contemplation. Placing your palm over your face might be considered a sign of embarrassment. Tugging your earlobe has several different meanings. – Hot Licks May 3 '15 at 20:51
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You already found the answer. It is scratching (one's head, chin, neck etc.). There isn't a special phrase for that, it is just a gesture and part of body language.

Scratching can indicate different emotions or states of mind, depending on where you scratch and other accompanying gestures. For example:

  • Scratching back of your head with a sheepish smile can indicate embarrassment
  • Scratching your chin/cheek and pouting can indicate anxiety and frustration. You might be dealing with a question also as your pictures show.

There can be many reasons also as the below picture suggests:

enter image description here

Decoding Body Language / slideshare.net


Beside gestures, scratch one's head is an idiomatic phrase also:

1 informal Think hard in order to find a solution to something.

1.1 Feel or express bewilderment.

[OD]

  • 1
    I like this thing of putting pictures in the answer when there are pictures in the question, it's good stuff. 👍 – user85526 May 4 '15 at 0:32

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