Understanding Italian Gestures

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About: Hi everybody! I'm Filippo from Bologna, Italy! My friends call me Orso (Bear) :) I follow Instructables since 2009, and it has always been one of my favourite websites. I've bulit a lot of fantastic things t...

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Hi dear friends, this is Filippo from Italy!

Yes from Italy! And I'm about to show you the most Italian ible ever, lacks only of a few spaghetti and pizza! XD

Italian friends and authors like lindarose92 (who I thank TRULY a lot for her precious advices :D) can understand me!

Italy is known all over the world for a lot of things, for example:

  • good food
  • beautiful places
  • awesome historic cities
  • art and design
  • cars and motorbikes and...
  • NOISY AND GESTICULATING PEOPLE! :D

No matter what you have heard, let an expert tell you the truth: yes, we Italians are very noisy and we gesticulate a lot! (mostly if confronted with other populations).

I know for sure that this feature characterizes and distinguishes us all over the world, and often people from other countries find it very funny! :D

So (inspired by this kind of images), since Italians are not the majority on Instructables, I thought it would be funny to list and show you with some photos of me, several of the most common and appreciated Italian gestures! :)

Then, you can call yourself a real Italian Aficionado and earn the seal of "100% approved Italian material" :D

Ahah! Let's start, amici!

Step 1: Why Do Italians Use So Many Hand Gestures?

There is a very funny and well-made NewYorkTimes article about Italian gestures, I suggest you to take a look!

Italian Psicology Professor Isabella Poggi says that there are more than 250 different gestures in Italian chatting! That's a lot of shaking hands! :D

In this study, several theories are taken in account to explain our propensity for hand gestures.

Someone says that it's because is by now part of our culture.

Some other even says that in overpopulated cities like Naples, gesture has become a "marketing factor".

I have a different theory to add to the list, and it's about dialect: every Italian can confirm you the countless amount of dialects in this country.

It's impressive and impossible to quantify.

Even if there are some "macro-dialect" that identify a lot of areas, each city has its particular cadence and language shape.

For example, Bolognese (dialect of my home-town) is very very different from Ferrarese (Ferrara's dialect), and this two cities are 30 miles away!!!

Imagine the situation in the South Italy, where dialects are much more complex and intricate.

Even for an Italian, sometimes it's really difficult to understand someone (like an elderly) who still speak strict-dialect.

For example I can't understand A SINGLE THING (believe me) from someone who speak Sardo (Sardinian dialect). It's like another language. It's incomprehensible.

Because of that, I think that we've embraced hand gestures a long time ago (and yes, they are indissoluble parts of our culture) to help ourselves to understand each others, when every relationship was made by people and face-to-face.

It's only a theory, but I don't think it's so different from the others. Don't you think? ;)

Step 2: Pointy Hand

The most classical one.

It's the icon symbol of Italian Gesture. The pointy hand with an up-down movement.

Known worldwide associated with the world "capeesh?", which is the Italian word "capisci?" (do you understand me?) somehow Americanized.

It's a gesture full of meanings, but we can identify mainly two forms.

Question form

  • What?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • When?
  • Who?

(yes, a single gesture for all the 5 W! XD)

Or a... Denial-Strong Question form

  • What the **** are you talking about?
  • You are saying stupid/false things
  • Who the *** are you?

...and other similar colorful expressions.

Sorry for the ****, but they indicate EXACTLY how this gesture is often used!

Eheh.

Step 3: Gun Hand

With a shape similar to a gun and a circle movement on the index finger axis, this widely used gesture indicates that something is finished.

For example: "honey, where are my spaghetti?"

Reply: "Sorry, I think they are finished"

...all accompanied by the Gun Hand gesture.

It's also used to say that you don't have something.

"Can I borrow your pen?"

"Sorry, I don't have any pen"

*gun hand in background*

Step 4: Chin Hand

Another known classic, the chin hand.

Hand open face down under the chin and forward movement in the air.

It's considered rude, because its meaning is simple and too direct:

"I don't care."

But, to be more precise, its correct translation should be:

"I completely don't give a ****."

Again, sorry for the ****, but "I don't care" is not the most precise translation of this gesture.

Really.

Step 5: Ok!

I'm not sure this gesture is born as Italian, because we all know that is used worldwide.

Ok gesture: index and thumb touching and other fingers opened.

It's simple and often use: ok, approved, I like that!

As I said, maybe it's not Italian, but for sure we use it a lot!

Step 6: Bad Luck Horns (Tiè!)

This is the gesture with the story that I like the most! :)

The Bad Luck Horns: the classical horns gesture.

Original of South Italy, it's used to avoid bad luck and adversity.

Sometimes used with the expression Tiè!, which means "go away!" or "to you!"

But, why this simbol has become the international gesture of HARD ROCK/METAL MUSIC?

Ronnie James Dio (ex-leader and main singer of Rainbow and Black Sabbath and my favorite singer) used profusely this gesture during his concerts.

He admitted that he learned the Horn gesture from his ITALIAN granny, who used it to chase bad luck!

Maybe this is not the only origin source of metal horns, but this story always makes me very proud!

Step 7: Go Away

Another one from the rude repertory.

The Go Away gesture: open hand except for the thumb, pointed in direction of the person with who we are talking, and quick&short circular movements.

The meaning is in the name: go away, I don't want you around me.

It's well known but not very used because of its rudeness.

Step 8: The Open Facepalm

Very simple gesture: completely open hand (even the thumb) and outstretched arm pointing the topic of the discussion.

Even if it's not a facepalm, the meaning is exactly the same:

"Oh my god, look at that stupid idiot..."

or

"Oh my god, what the *** is he doing?" (not with wonder)

...always with an exasperated tone.

It's often accompanied with a long sigh and the other hand leaning against the side.

Step 9: Nobody

The exact same position of the Pointy Hand, but with a different movement: circular instead of up&down.

The meaning is: "nobody, alone".

It indicates a place with no people, or maybe a party that is not going well.

Sometimes is used to indicate that you didn't obtain what you were searching for.

"You didn't get that girl's cell number, eh?"

*with a mockery smile and the Nobody gesture*

Step 10: Shaking Open Hand

This one is not very popular nowadays, and it's mainly used by elderly.

Here in my region (Emilia-Romagna) is also used by teens, but mainly like a sarcastic emulation of an old person. :)

Hand open wide, shaking up in the air.

It has two completely different meaning.

The first one:

"Ah my friend, if you could only imagine!"

And the most common one.

It's associated with the tendecy of Italians to puff up their stories with too much things! :D

The second one:

"You are shaking the nuts tree!"

This way of saying is original of Bologna (my home town) where years ago nuts where used to indicate slapping or general physical punishment.

Like: "Do you want a nut?" with a punch gesture, it's not a friendly talking. Trust me.

So, when a parent or a grandparent used to say that to a kid, the kid was better not to drop any nuts from that tree!

But don't worry, if you ever come to Bologna, you can be my guests and I will not give you any nuts my friends XD

Step 11: Let's Go!

Similar to the Go Away (step 7), but this time pointed directly to yourselves (the speaker).

It indicates that it's time to leave, to go away from the place for several reasons.

Ex., at a friend's house:

"Ok it's late, let's go. Tomorrow is a hard one!"

Even if you can think it's rude to go away with a gesture, here it's normal and it's not considered rude at all (if you are speaking to a friend).

Avoid to use ANY gesture in a official occasion XD

Step 12: Paura, Eh?

I left the title in Italian here, because it's a very famous catchphrase.

It means: "Scared, aren't you?"

The gesture is made by closing and opening quickly all the fingers, like you are pinching something.

It's used to asked with mockery if you are scared from a particular situation.

The meaning is that you are saying to your speaker that is a coward.

This gesture was made famous and widely used in our country by Carlo Lucarelli, a popular Italian tv host of crime and investigative programs.

During an episode of Blu Notte - Misteri Italiani (that tv show), he made this gesture to underline a scary situation with an extremely serious face, but it resulted in a unintended funny scene, which was used by Italian comedians (Fabio de Luigi in primis), to identify the character of Lucarelli.

We still make a good laugh about it after almost 15 years from the episode.

Step 13: Umbrella Gesture

The italian version of the middle finger (F*** you).

Put your hand on the middle of the other arm and bend that arm a little.

It's called Umbrella because your arm obtain the shape of an old umbrella handle.

It literally means what I said in the beggining:

"F*** you".

It's maybe the most rude gesture of our repertory, and I suggest to avoid using it in almost any occasion, or your vacations in Italy can end badly XD

Step 14: No, Forget It

Why saying a simple "no" when you have a specific gesture for it?

Put your hand open, except for the thumb, in front of your face and perpendicular to the nose. Then shake with quick&short circular movements.

It's not only a NO, it's a

"Are you mad? Completely forget about it!"

You should use this one only with friends.

It's not considered rude, but it's not also a very polite way to say a no :)

Step 15: You, Clever Guy!

Not one of the most popular, but used often in some areas (Bologna is one of them).

You only have to bow your head and pull down a little the skin under your eye, with a crafty smile!

It means that you, the people you are talking to or someone else is clever, or has done something cunning and tricky.

It's not an intelligent or righteous thing, it's more about doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.

Clever, isn't it?

Step 16: Tengo 'na Mazza Tanta!

Maybe I should not show you this one.

But...ok then. Most of you are adults.

You have have to put your open hand, like a cleaver, at a certain height on your opposite arm.

The title is in Napoletano (Naples dialect), and it means....welll...

"I have very big genitals."

As big as the dimension indicated by the hand.

Certainly, it's not a very classy gesture! XD

But it can bring a laugh or two with your friend.

Use it properly. And do not deceive anyone, if possible.

Step 17: God, Shut My Mouth

When something really, really exasperate you, the God, shut my mouth gesture is perfect.

Hands open like in a prayer, and a bite on your lips, with your eyes to the sky.

A very evocative one, often used with a strong groan of disapproval.

As the title explains, it's used when something (ore more easily someone) brings you to the point of no return, when you are literally FULL of a situation and can't stand anything more.

The bite on the lips indicates that you are trying to take some "bad words" inside of you.

And the hands pray the Lord for some help.

Everything with a gesture.

Step 18: Hand Bite

I like this one, it shows really well how you're feeling.

Open and straight hand inside your mouth, with your teeth on.

It has two completely different meanings.

When used with a suffering expression (often with eyes closed):

You've hurt yourself and trying to bite the hand in order to concentrate to "another" pain (the bite on the hand, indeed)

When used with a mischievous smile and gaze:

You've seen something you really like (usually a girl) and you bite your hand to punish yourself for the bad thought of wanting it

The second one is popular between teenagers.

Surprised? :)

Step 19: Kissing Hand

Not very used for its theatricality, but known worldwide.

Put your closed hand to your mouth and kiss it, opening the hand like a flower.

It's often associated with Italian cuisine and chefs.

Its meaning is that something, usually food, is really really good, of 1st quality.

L'é bon, ma dimondi bon!

Bolognese dialect: "It's good, very very good indeed!"

Step 20: Sei Tocco!

This one is also international.

Very funny, you have to spin your index finger near your head, with a stupid look.

It means that someone is mad, we say that "he doesn't have all the gear in his head!".

It's rude to point someone with this gesture, unless you are in a joking mood with your friends! :)

Step 21: Drunky

Another one of the "funny repertory".

Open up your thumb and pinkie finger and imitate a bottle, with a up&down shake.

As you can imagine, it indicates that someone is drunk or is drinking too much (so you better be the driver for the night).

"Hey, what's bad with him?"

*replies with the Drunky gesture*

"Oh, I understand."

Step 22: Suca!

The last of this ible (for now), let's end with a rude one XD

This is the less classy gesture you can do, definitly.

Open your hands and shake them to indicate your lower parts.

The title suca means literally suck it up.

So... this gesture means what you are thinking.

But it's more a mockery gesture than else.

It's used when you have defeated your opponent at something, and you like to celebreate taunting him.

Or when someone tries to put you in a difficult situation and you overcome it with success.

Or, finally, when your opponent has failed something (like in sports) and you enjoy his misfortune.

Like a sir, indeed...

Step 23: Welcome to Italy!

And that's all...FOR NOW!

Now you are a 100% approved Italian gesticuler, you can came here when you want dear friends! :D

Suggest me new gestures, if I can collect another pack of interesting gestures I will certainly make a PART 2! :)

Like always, from Italy, this is Filippo.

Ciao a tutti! :D

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    244 Discussions

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    RobertP231

    2 years ago

    Grazie mille, Darthoso, mio paesano - great instructable! You really took me back to my childhood in the Little Italy section of Newark, New Jersey. But I wonder if there are dialects in gestures too? My Calabrese grandparents explained to me some very different meanings for two of these. In my family, the #18 "bite your hand" (or alternately, "bite your fist") was a sign of exasperation with someone else, roughly meaning "You are driving me crazy, and if you don't stop, you're going to be very sorry!" It was often accompanied by "Mannaggia mia!" And your #5 (the chin flick) would have resulted in a fist fight anywhere in the New York City or New Jersey area. It was considered a very offensive gesture, not quite as bad as vaffa***la (the umbrella hook gesture), but more like "Up yours!"

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    The-Only-Duke

    2 years ago

    great instructable! gonna suprise my italian freinds with one or two of these when I go back to uni haha

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    albtrentadue

    2 years ago

    Usually I do not favour the common places about Italian habits. However this post made us laugh for quarter hour. Good one, continua così.

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    jayeff

    2 years ago

    Molto bene! I took some classes in Italian back in university, but they certainly never taught us the gestures. :) When is Part 2 coming out? ;)

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    Darthorsojayeff

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you my friend!

    I don't know... very little time to make a part 2 :(

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    jocman

    2 years ago

    Da buon pseudo campano (mia madre è veneta - vabbè nessuno è perfetto) e da italiano 100% non posso che approvare.

    Mi permetterei solo un paio di suggerimenti:

    1) magari una gif animata sarebbe simpatica per vedere le nostre "espressioni idiomatiche mute" in azione

    2) integrerei il "suca" anche con la versione più "fighetta" a mano (sai, il movimento di polso con la mano "a coppa rovesciata" - scusa ma non saprei come definirla....)

    3) manca il famoso (e scenografico) gesto del "vaffa": braccio teso e mano a paletta con movimento repentino dal basso verso l'alto

    4) la versione "soft" del "sei un pirla" portata in auge dal grande Antonio De Curtis (in arte Totò)

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    Darthorsojocman

    Reply 2 years ago

    Grazie jocman, sono contento che ti piaccia! E grazie mille dei consigli.

    L'anno scorso avevo in cantiere la parte 2, ne avevo già scritto un pochino ma poi non l'ho portata avanti. Se mai la completerò, terrò sicuramente conto dei tuoi consigli.

    Grazie a presto!

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    razionalista

    4 years ago on Introduction

    I am Italian too and I confirm the meaning of every single gesture he explained. I have another suggestion to the people who want to try speaking Italian language with the support of this gestures: don't exasperatethem. Before using the gestures, try lurking for some time observing the most commonly ones used in the place you are visiting ;)

    PS: grande Darthorso, ho apprezzato tantissimo la tua guida in cui mi sono in gran parte rispecchiato! Noto sempre che gli stranieri in visita restano molto affascinati dal nostro gesticolare e sarebbe simpatico trovarne qualcuno che ci provi :D

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    Darthorsorazionalista

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Great! :D :D:D I'm really glad you appriciate my guide! And nice advice for the tourists, too! ^_^

    P.S: Grande, mi fa tanto piacere! :D Mi è dispiaciuto quando alcuni mi hanno detto che hanno trovato questa guida offensiva, ovviamente non è l'intenzione del tutto... ma stranamente, gli italiani mi hanno tutti detto che l'hanno apprezzata XD Son contento che ti piaccia!

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    DavideP17Darthorso

    Reply 2 years ago

    Definitely a worthy one!! Gonna pass it on to my colleagues who always make fun of my hand moving in the office!

    I do agree that this may make people think that Italians are more rude than they actually are... or are we? :)

    From a Modenese to a Bolognese, grazie Filippo!

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    DarthorsoDavideP17

    Reply 2 years ago

    Grazie Davide! Sono contento che ti sia piaciuto!

    Saluti da Bologna!