Italian Hand Gestures
Italian Hand Gestures: the Truth Behind the Stereotype
Hundreds of years before people around the world used emoticons to non-verbally express their feelings, Italians had already developed an elaborate and highly expressive body-alphabet. I’m sure you’ve heard the stereotype that Italians speak with their hands, but having gotten the chance to spend some time in Italy, I can tell you that it’s no stereotype: it’s the absolute truth! Funny, bizarre or downright confusing, Italian hand gestures can cause us foreigners to feel completely left out even if we speak the language, while on the other hand, understanding them can give us a sense of what’s being said even when we don’t know the difference between “ciao” and “mamma mia”. Of course, it would be impossible to give you a complete list of Italian hand gestures (just consider that the New York Times has classified over 250 of them) so I’ve narrowed it down to my 10 favorite ones… leaving out the (many!) NSFW ones 😉 For some real insight into this fascinating, wonderful and slightly crazy people, it’s time to start listening with your eyes!
My mini-guide to Italian hand gestures: learning Italy’s grammar-less alphabet
1 – “What the heck are you talking about?”
Perhaps the most ubiquitous gesture of all, used all around the world by those who want to mock Italians, no matter what the subject: done by bringing together your fingertips and moving the arm back and forth, it actually has a very specific meaning: “What the heck are you talking about?”
2 – “Excellent, perfect!”
Equally common, this gesture expresses that something has been prepared or executed to perfection, often – but not necessarily – in the kitchen. The fingertips are again joined together “eggplant-style”, but then you place them close to your lips and open them at the same exact moment you blow a kiss. Easier said than done!
3 – “Delicious!”
This gesture is strictly culinary in nature and means that something is supremely yummy: put your index finger against your cheek and rotate back and forth repeatedly. Just be careful it’s your cheek and not your temple: that gesture has a whole different value, and means “this person is totally crazy!”
4 – “Scary!”
Join the fingertips upwards, just like for n. 1, then quickly open and close them over and over. This means that something is frightening, or can be used interrogatively to ask: “are you scared?”
5 – “I don’t give a f… !”
Another Italian hand gesture you’ll definitely run into if you visit the country: hold your head up, place your hand under your chin with the palm facing down, and slide the hand forward: an unmistakable – if not especially elegant – way to show you really don’t care about something or someone.
6 – “There’s nothing here” or “I can’t figure it out”
Form an “L” with your index finger and thumb then, keeping the other fingers closed, rotate it left and right with your wrist. It can either mean “there’s nothing here!” (as if looking into an empty fridge), “I can’t figure (something) out” or “there’s no way around this.” You can emphasize the concept by using both hands.
7 – “Look at that idiot!”
If you’re upset with someone or want to point out a reprehensible behavior, hold out your arm towards this person, but rather than pointing, keep your palm facing up and slightly flex your wrist downward. Needless to say, the gesture must be accompanied by an appropriate look of indignation!
8 – “Those two are more than just friends…”
If you’re like me and enjoy some good ol’ gossip every now and then, you definitely need to learn this one. It’s made by holding both hands in a fist with the exception of the two index fingers, which are held out straight and tapped repeatedly against one another. Remember to enhance the gesture with a flirty, knowing look, since it means there’s a dalliance in progress which is definitely more than just friendship…
9 – “Let’s get out of here”
Hold on tight, ’cause this one’s a little complicated: one hand is held in front of you perpendicular to the ground, while the other, palm facing down, is used to give a few taps to first one. This is used when you want to get the heck out of somewhere, be it a spectacularly boring movie or an awkward, sticky situation.
10 – “Angry!!!”
Italians have a very simple way of expressing anger or frustration: place a finger in your mouth and bite (just mimic the motion, no need to leave marks or draw blood). Of course, I hope you never find yourself needing it when you visit the country, so maybe stay away from the post office…
I can’t promise that now, with this guide to Italian hand gestures, you’ll understand every single one of the many, strange hand movements these guys have codified over the centuries, but I’m sure it’s a good starting point. And what about you? Have you come across any other interesting or funny Italian gestures you’d like to share? Let me know… or send me a video! 😉