Our guide to Italian gestures
Learning a language is not just learning grammar rules. A language is so much more then grammar rules. Every language is the mirror of a culture. Learning Italian is also learning how to use our hands to add meanings to what we say, to visualize what we mean.
Here you will find all the necessary information to help you understand what makes Italian gestures so famous and just how to use them correctly.
Italian gestures are the very essence of how we communicate, although we could easily converse for hours using gestures alone, we would find it near impossible to speak for the same length of time without moving our hands. Gestures accompany our every expression and underline all of our thoughts and feelings and for us, a conversation without gestures, would be confusing and boring.. The expressiveness of gestures in Italy has reached a peak, evolving to the point that the common use of them has transformed them almost into an art. An art in which each one becomes an artist, using and reusing gestures, adding your own personal touch that makes them your own.
So it’s time to take a look at some of the more common:
Quite possibly the most famous Italian gesture in the world, despite the fact that it isn’t as commonly used as some of the others. Whilst it is typically used by children to express their pleasure at the food they have in front of them, adults use it too on occasions to express the same delight.
Just put your index finger on your cheek and turn it from side to side repeatedly pushing gently.
Here is another hugely common gesture used to tell a friend to have patience with you. It is useful in many situations and is always more effective than just saying it.
Just keep your hand flat and open, pushing it forward in front of you, just like a traffic warden wanting to stop a car.
An international gesture displaying your thumb up and your hand closed.
In Italy there is also a variant from the normal gesture, made by forming a circle with your thumb and index finger as if forming the letter “O” of OK. This is something that can create misunderstanding, for example, in Japan where the same gesture means money. We can also this gesture as a question by simply raising our eyebrows to express our rising intonation.
So just how do you get the waiter’s attention when he’s over the other side of a busy, noisy bar? Quite simply like this, with your index finger raised, and your hand half open or closed and using arched eyebrows to attract the glance of the other person.
How much is it ?
To ask how much something is, all you need to do is to hold up your hand and rub your thumb and index finger together in a brisk movement, as if you are rubbing breadcrumbs. The same gesture can also be used to indicate that something is particularly expensive.
How about some spaghetti?
What better way to honour a national dish, than to give it its own gesture?! Place your extended index finger and middle finger together and rotate with a closed hand. This movement imitates the action of the fork swirling around the spaghetti (without the help of a spoon obviously!).
What do you want? What are you saying?!
One of the most famous and typically Italian gestures that you can use to express your disbelief at what another person has said or done. With a closed hand and fingers joined and pointing upwards, you move your hand in a up and down movement. It is often accompanied by your voice, uttering phrases full of scurrilous words that try to capture the emotive pathos of the speaker. This gesture can also have other meanings in other cultures for example : in India it means “let’s eat”.
This gesture can be used in various contexts and situations in which we would like to express a sense of togetherness. It is especially used to ask whether two people are a couple: “Are they together ?” But we can also use it with other verbs such as ‘Shall we go out together?”
Two hands are needed here, with index fingers placed parallel in a repeated action mimicking togetherness.
Are you crazy!?
Indicate this feeling by putting an index finger to the side of your forehead and giving it a few light taps. This gesture is often used to underline a person’s state of surprise at what someone else has done or said, which has left us completely perplexed. The index finger that touches your forehead and thus your mind, wants to point out the mental problems of the person who is behaving in such a strange way.