7 Italian hand gestures you should know about

November 10, 2023

Did you know that there are approximately 250 hand gestures used by Italians on a daily basis ? Yes, 250! Few conversations are ever complete without one.

But where do they all come from?

Gestures partly come from the Italian love for dramatic and theatrical representations.

But they also partly originate from a long history of Italy being 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.

We’ve chosen seven of the most common gestures to share with you.

But before we 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!

Here are 7 of our favourite Italian gestures, and what they mean

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.

From rags to riches – Italian hand gesture

Difficulty: Easy peasy

Use when…Facial expressionPhrase associated
A situation or person has changed drasticallyDisappointed or sadÈ cambiato / cambiata da così a così!  
(He / she changed from this to that!)

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

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!

"What torture!" – Italian hand gesture, decoded by language-learning app Busuu
Use when…Facial expressionPhrases associated
You want to refrain from saying something you’ll regret laterSquint Porca miseria! (What the heck!)

Cavolo! (No way!)

Mannaggia! (Damn it!)

Cultural tip
Use this one to let another person know you’re struggling to stay calm. It works well when something doesn’t go as planned, or when someone does something wrong.

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!

anti evil eye – Italian hand gesture
Use when…Facial expressionPhrase associated
You’re protecting yourself from the Evil Eye, or against anyone who’s badmouthing us, or someone close to us.WorriedTiè!
(Take that!)

Cultural tip
This gesture is often referred to as fare le corna (literally, “to do the horns”).

4. The “pinecone hand” gesture

Here is the Italian hand gesture you’ve all been waiting for.

I bet you’ve been wondering, are they going to mention that hand gesture? The most classic of all Italian gestures known to man.

Are you ready?

It’s the one and only “pinecone hand” gesture.

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

Difficulty: Contortionist

Use when…Facial expressionPhrases associated
Someone says something a bit sillyConfused lookMa che fai? (But what are you doing?!)

Ma dove vai? (But where are you going?!)
You’re sarcastically questioning a friend’s sanityDisagreeing lookMa chi sei? (But who are you?!)

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

Ma perché? (But WHY?!)

Cultural tip
Pretty self-explanatory, we reckon…

5. The “Spaghettata” gesture

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

Difficulty: Contortionist

Spaghettata – Italian hand gesture
Use when…Facial expressionPhrases associated
You’re hungry and really craving spaghettiSelf-satisfied lookSpaghettata  
(A round of spaghetti)

Cultural tip
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 version

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.

Difficulty: Contortionist

Friendly get out of here – Italian hand gesture
Use when…Facial expressionPhrase associated
Telling someone that you want to leave or that you should leave togetherNeutralAndiamo! (Let’s go!)

Cultural tip
This one’s pretty handy when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation that you want to get out of.

Not-so-friendly version

Same as above, but use your other hand to smack the back of the hand that moves.

Difficulty: Contortionist

Not so friendly out of here – Italian hand gesture
Use when…Facial expressionPhrase associated
Telling someone to leaveFed up and botheredTogliti! (Move!)

Oh, vattene! (Go away!)

Cultural tip
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

Aumm aumm – Italian hand gesture
Use when…Facial expressionPhrase associated
You think something funny is going onSpread your cheekbones as if you were forcing a smile, and stretch your lips so that they’re almost invisible.Aumm, aumm…
A situation seems a bit shady, or even illegalRaise both your eyebrows as if you know what is actually going on.Aumm, aumm…

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

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 learn 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!

Want to learn more Italian?

We’re Busuu, an app that makes learning a language easier for everyone. We’d be happy to help!

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