front and back woman hands (isolated on white background)

Some Curiosities About Italian Verbal and Body Language

Along with delicious food, Italian culture and traditions come with another truly fascinating aspect: its own people and their language, both verbal and non-verbal. Many people talk with their hands to emphasise their points, but the Italians are likely the most physically expressive out of any European culture you might know.

You might have seen movies featuring Italians using specific hand gestures that might seem familiar, but you might not be sure what they mean, exactly. Or you might be gearing up to travel to Italy on holiday, and you want to understand what the locals are saying, not just with words, but with their hands. This is particularly useful since certain gestures you might use, however innocent, might be considered rude. On the flip side, there are movements so simple that to an untrained

Here are a few Italian hand gestures you might have seen before, perhaps in the cinema.

  1. Finger Purse. This gesture is one of the most well-known. All you do is hold your fingers and thumb bunched together up towards the sky, and either hold it still or move your hand up and down. It generally translates as ‘Ma che vuoi?’ (Ma kay vu-o-ee) or ‘What do you mean?’ or ‘What do you really want?’ This could even be described as the most quintessential of Italian hand gestures because it’s so identifiable.
  2. Finger Kiss. The ‘Finger Kiss’ is most definitely one you’ve likely seen before. The hand formation is the same as the ‘Finger Purse,’ but you touch your fingers to your lips. The basic translation is ‘Eccellente!’
  3. Chin Flick. Another one you might have seen is a rather classic gesture, but it’s one that’s on the negative side. The fingers of one hand point inwards towards the throat, then are brushed up and outward quickly. It generally means “I don’t give a (insert expletive here).”
  4. Secret. This one is a bit more obscure, but it’s an intriguing gesture. If you know enough Italian to overhear that someone’s doing something in secret, they might make the following hand motion: they’ll hold one of their hands with all fingers down and sort of spread outward, and make a circular motion with the entire hand. It not only means ‘secret,’ but also ‘something done under the table.’
  5. Money. You might have seen this one, or a variation of it. This gesture is very simple, and it’s made by rubbing the thumb and index finger together. Depending on the context, it can either mean ‘yes I/they have money,’ or ‘that’s expensive.’ Facial expression plays into this, too, so watch for people’s faces to get the context about a discussion.
  6. ‘No.’ There are two basic gestures for this word. A) The thumb and index finger will be stretched out as if you’re holding a gun, but the whole hand will be moved front to back rapidly. B) The index finger of either hand will be pointed up to the sky and waved side to side, which is a gesture you’ve likely done yourself, or perhaps a variation thereof.

There are many, many more gestures, some of which are innocuous, and some that are not very nice at all. This list is just a bit of a ‘primer’ to some you might have seen, or will see at some point. Learn these, plus more, and you’ll be able to understand what’s being said—while not saying any extra words.

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