Italian hand gestures and facial expressions are fundamental to Italian conversation, allowing Italians to express themselves beyond words. Italian gestures and body language are so deeply ingrained in Italy’s culture that they can break through any language barrier and convey complex ideas and emotions.
Italian conversation utilizes hand gestures similarly to how punctuation is utilized in writing. Hands function as exclamation points, periods, commas, and question marks. Italians add more meaning to their spoken words through Italian hand gestures, creating a more engaging and compelling conversation.
Italian Language: 20% Words, 80% Hand Gestures
Growing up in Italy, I remember my nonna (grandmother) always gesturing while she spoke. Her hands would fly through the air as if they had a life of their own, punctuating her words and bringing them to life. She conveyed her message more through her body language than her words.
As I got older, I began to understand the cultural significance of these gestures. They are an integral part of the Italian way of life, expressing everything from excitement to confusion.
Hand Gestures in Italy: The Secret Language
Hand gestures in Italy are like secret Italian body language that only the locals understand. They are used in everyday communication, from the marketplace to the piazza. Even before the law banned talking on cell phones while driving, Italians would pull over to the side of the road because they couldn’t drive and carry on a conversation without using their hands.
Italian hand gestures transcend language barriers and convey a complete message, making them a language in their own right. Here are 22 examples of common Italian hand gestures together with these classic gestures’ meanings.
The “finger purse” is a widely recognized Italian hand gesture. It is often used with a facial expression of frustration, irritation, or bewilderment. This hand gesture can convey the meaning of “Ma che vuoi?” (“But what do you want?”), “Ma che stai dicendo?” (“But what are you saying?”), or “Ma che stai facendo? (“But what are you doing?”).
Also called “mano a borsa” (purse hand), this Italian hand gesture involves touching your fingers and thumb together and shaking your hand in front of your face. It expresses disbelief, frustration, and disagreement and is one of Italy’s best-known hand gestures.
The “finger kiss” is a famous Italian hand gesture that conveys the meaning of “Eccellente” or “Excellent.” It is typically used to express appreciation or admiration for something or someone. To perform this gesture, one would bring their fingers together, lift their hand to their mouth and touch their fingers to their lips, as if giving a kiss.
The “finger kiss” gesture expresses appreciation for something or someone and love, appreciation, and gratitude. It also shows respect, admiration, and appreciation towards art, culture, history, a good meal, wine, or a performance. Often seen in Northern Italy, this gesture is particularly significant in Italian culture, as it expresses one’s emotions and feelings without using words.
Fare le Corna
The Italian hand gesture “fare le corna” raises the index and little finger while the other fingers are folded down. A clenched fist sometimes accompanies this gesture for added emphasis.
This gesture represents a pair of horns and is typically used to ward off bad luck or to express disbelief. It is often called “little horns” and can also be used to insult someone.
The “chin flick” is a famous Italian hand gesture that is used to convey the message “Non me ne frega” which translates to “I don’t give a damn” or “I don’t care.”
To perform this gesture, you must bend your arm at the elbow, keeping your palm and fingers facing your body. Then, bring your hand to your throat and, with a flip of a wrist, run your fingers lightly upward from the neck past the tip of your chin.
The “occhio gesture” or “eyelid pull” is a famous hand gesture in Italy. It’s a way of expressing exasperation and disbelief. Usually done with one hand by pulling down the lower eyelid with one finger while looking up.
It means “Careful, I’m watching you…” or “I don’t believe it.” It can express doubts, disbelief, or disapproval of something and is often accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders.
To perform this gesture, one would place their index finger below their eye, slightly pull down the eyelid, tilt their head, and give a stern look to the person they are communicating with.
The “hand biting” gesture is a commonly used Italian hand gesture conveying, “when I catch you, you’ll be in trouble.” It is often used when someone is fed up or frustrated with someone else’s behavior. It can also be used by mothers scolding their children.
To perform this gesture, one would bite their hand like a sandwich, usually (but not necessarily) with the palm open. This gesture expresses frustration, anger, and even a sense of threat.
By combining the index fingers of both hands and tapping them together, you are implying that two people or two things get along or go together very well. This Italian gesture is used in different contexts and can be seen in TV shows and daily conversations. It is somewhat a similar gesture to “fare le corna.” However, the two gestures have completely different meanings.
When you rub your thumb, index, and middle finger together, you’re indicating that the topic of discussion is money. This dramatic hand gesture is common throughout Italy and is used to express anything related to money matters.
If someone repeatedly taps their watch with their index finger, they indicate that you haven’t reached the designated location on time. The lift of an eyebrow often accompanies this gesture, and a little practice is needed to perfect it.
Pressing your index finger into your cheek and turning it indicates that you thoroughly enjoy your meal. This Italian hand gesture is a way of expressing pleasure and is often accompanied by Italian sayings.
Placing your hand perpendicular to the floor and shaking it up and down means “go away” or “get lost.” This alternative communication is a widely-used Italian hand gesture, especially in Southern Italy.
Get to the Point
Opening and closing your fingers with your palms turned upwards indicates that you want the other person to summarise or get to the point. This Italian hand gesture is often used in business meetings or formal settings.
Hitting your forehead with your hand means that you forgot (about) something or forgot to do something. This Italian hand gesture, which can be seen on a daily basis in Italy, expresses forgetfulness and is accompanied by a little humor.
I Don’t Like It
Tapping your hand to your chest with your fingers facing down indicates that you dislike someone or something. This Italian hand gesture is used to express dislike or disapproval.
Creating a ring with your thumb and forefinger and drawing an imaginary line in front of your face means, “it’s perfect”! This is one of Italy’s best-known hand gestures and can be seen on TV shows and used in different contexts.
Putting your index finger on your mouth and saying “shhh” means “be quiet.” This dramatic hand gesture is used to silence someone or to indicate the need for quietness. It is an alternative form of communication commonly used in Italy.
Drawing a line on your cheek with your thumb indicates someone is “clever” or “sneaky.” This Italian hand gesture is often accompanied by a little smirk and expresses admiration for someone’s intelligence or cunningness.
Pushing your hands down in front of your chest means “calm down.” This Italian hand gesture is used to soothe someone or to indicate the need for calmness.
Wiping imaginary sweat from your forehead with your hand is akin to saying, “phew.” This Italian hand gesture expresses relief and is often seen in different contexts.
Opening and closing your fingers while placing them vertically indicates that the other person is scared of something and is deriding them for their fear.
It Went Well
Sticking one or both of your thumbs up in the air means “it went well.” This gesture is a common way to express satisfaction and is easy to master with little practice.
Moving your whole hand backward or sideways near your chest means, “come on, let’s go.” This gesture is often used dramatically to express impatience or urgency.
Italian Hand Gestures: Fundamental to Italy’s Communication Style
Italy is known for its expressive and passionate people. Using Italian hand gestures is fundamental to the country’s communication style. The examples provided are just a small glimpse into the vast array of gestures used in Italy. For instance, there are many similar gestures with different meanings depending on the context, and some classic gestures have meanings that can vary across different regions of the country.
Whether you’re trying to convey your frustration or show your enthusiasm, the Italians have a gesture for every occasion. These dramatic hand gestures can speak volumes from the “Horns” gesture used to ward off evil to the “Money” gesture used to indicate a financial topic. With a little bit of practice, anyone can learn to use Italian hands to communicate effectively.
To master the art of Italian hands, consider observing the locals and practicing with Italian friends. You can even learn from experts like Luca Vullo, who has dedicated part of his career to documenting Italian hand gestures. So, the next time you’re in Italy, don’t be afraid to use your hands to speak. With a little practice, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can communicate with just a few simple gestures.