7 hand gestures that will make you feel really Italian!

It’s hard to imagine someone speaking Italian without moving their hands and face, right? This is because gestures represent an essential part of Italian communication. There are approximately 250 gestures used by Italians on a daily basis. Yes, 250! But where do they all come from?

Gestures partly come from the Italian love for dramatic and theatrical representations. Not only this, but in the past, Italy was invaded by many other countries that imposed their languages, cultures and mannerisms. This meant there were language barriers, so people had to come up with other ways of communicating. That’s where gestures came in handy!

I’ve chosen 7 of the most common gestures to share with you. Before I start, remember that gesticulating isn’t just about the hands; it’s also about facial expressions and posture. So stretch out your neck and shoulders, open your eyes, warm up your eyebrows, and get ready to move your hands like never before!

 

1. The “From Riches to Rags” gesture

Place your hand with your palm facing downwards; then, as you speak and reach the subject of the conversation, flip your hand over so that your palm is now facing upwards.

Difficulty: easy peasy

 

When to use

Facial expression

Phrase associated

Cultural tip

When you want to show how a situation or a person has drastically changed.

 

Disappointed

È cambiato / cambiata da così a così!

(He / she changed from this to that!)

 

We usually use this gesture when we feel sad or disappointed with someone’s behaviour.

Sad

 

2. The “What torture!” gesture

Make your hand into a fist and bite your index finger or flatten your hand and bite the top part of your index finger.

Difficulty: You can do it, Charlie Brown!

When to use

Facial expression

Word / Sentence associated

Cultural tip

When we want to refrain from saying something we’ll later regret.

  

Squint your eyes.

  

Porca miseria! (What the heck!)

We can use this one to let another person know we are struggling to stay calm. We use it when something doesn’t go as planned or when someone does something wrong.

Cavolo! (No way!)

Mannaggia! (Damn it!)

 

3. The “Anti-evil Eye / Horns” gesture

Stretch your pinkie and index fingers with your hand facing downwards to look like horns.

Difficulty: You can do it, Charlie Brown!

 

When to use

Facial expression

Word / Sentence associated

Cultural tip

We use it protect ourselves from the evil eye.

Worried

 

Tiè! (Take that!)

 

This gesture is often referred to as fare le corna (lit. to do the horns).

We use it against anyone that is bad-mouthing us or someone close to us.

 

Ok. Here it is – the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I bet you’ve been wondering: Where’s THE hand gesture? The classic Italian gesture by far. Are you ready? The one and only…

 

4. The “Pinecone Hand” gesture

Gather your fingertips to one imaginary point making sure to keep your fingers stretched out.

Difficulty: contortionist

When to use

Facial expression

Word / Sentence associated

Cultural tip

When someone says something a bit silly.

Confused

Ma che fai? (But what are you doing?!)

Pretty self-explanatory…

Ma dove vai? (But where are you going?!)

 When you’re sarcastically questioning a friend’s sanity.   Disagreement  

Ma chi sei? (But who are you?!)

Ma che vuoi? (But what do you want?)!

Ma perché? (But WHY?!)

 

5. The “Spaghettata” gesture

With your index and middle finger imitate a fork picking up spaghetti; your elbow should face sidewards.

Difficulty: contortionist

When to use

Facial expression

Word / Sentence associated

Cultural tip

When we’re hungry and really crave spaghetti.

Self-satisfied look

Spaghettata

(A round of spaghetti)

Italians love pasta; and spaghetti is the epitome of Italian cuisine. Whether it’s lunch or dinner, suggesting to have a spaghettata will always be a great idea.

 

6. The “Let’s get out of here!” gesture

Friendly: With your palm facing inwards, flatten your fingers but lift only your thumb; then move your hand several times in an up-and-down motion.

Not-so-friendly: Same as above, but use your other hand to smack the back of the hand that moves.

Difficulty: contortionist

 Friendly

 Not-so-friendly 

 

When to use

Facial expression

Word / Sentence associated

Cultural tip

Friendly: to tell someone that you want to leave or that you should leave together.

Friendly: neutral

Friendly: Andiamo! (Let’s go!)

Friendly: This one’s pretty handy when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation that you want to leave.

Not-so-friendly: to tell someone to leave.

Not-so-friendly: fed up and bothered

Not-so-friendly: Togliti! (Move!)
Not-so-friendly: Oh, vattene! (Go away!)

Not-so-friendly: You should only use it with people you know well and who can take a joke. You’re basically asking them to completely disappear from the picture!

 

7. The “aumm, aumm” gesture

Move your hand to the sound of: aumm aumm. Lower your palm and move your fingers (pinkie first, then the others progressively) like you’re playing a harp.

Difficulty: contortionist

When to use

Facial expression

Word / Sentence associated

Cultural tip

When you think something not quite right is going on; for example, if you think that someone is trying to trick you.

Spread your cheekbones as if you were forcing a smile, and stretch your lips so that they are almost non-visible.

Aumm, aumm…

 

What’s important here is the perfect synchrony between the movement of the hand and the pronunciation of aumm, aumm.

When a situation is a bit too shady, or even illegal.

Raise both your eyebrows as if you know what is actually going on.

 

Don’t worry, with a little bit of practice you will soon become a Jedi Master of Italian gestures. The beauty of gestures lies in the fact that you don’t really need to speak or understand Italian to know what’s going on, so keep on practising, and before you know it you’ll be able to show everyone how Italian you really are!

 

Luciano is the Localisation Editor at busuu. He is half Italian/half English. His favourite gesture is: “Let’s get out of here!”

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