When an Italian person goes abroad and says that he/she is from Italy, more often than not, he/she will receive the following answer: “Aaaah! Mamma mia! Pizza, mafia, mandolino!”, followed by the most famous of Italian hand gestures:
More often than not, the Italian person in question will not appreciate the comment or will even get offended, saying that he/she resents being stereotyped and that “Italians don’t even use hand gestures that much”, while accompanying this assertion with a whole series of gestures:
Having lived in Italy for eight years, I went from being a confused expat, who misunderstood entire concepts expressed only with one finger, to becoming a naturalised Italian who suddenly started using hands instead of words.
From my own experience as an external witness, I can say that yes, Italians do use hand gestures “that much”. But the funny thing is that those hand gestures are so deeply rooted in their DNA they don’t even seem to realise it.
When outsiders arrive in Italy for the first time, no matter how many dictionaries they bring and how many Italian online lessons they’ve had, they will still have a hard time understanding what Italians are trying to communicate to them.
For all of those who are about to experience that struggle or are already experiencing it, here is a survival kit with the most common Italian hand gestures and their explanations:
- The Italian state of mind
This is perhaps the most famous and imitated Italian hand gesture in the whole world. Its meanings revolve around the general questions What? Who? Where? When? Why? and it is used by Italians to express general doubt and perplexity, in a wide variety of moods and emotions.
For example, it can express both
“Tesoro, ma cosa stai dicendo? Scemino…” (Sweetheart, what are you saying? You are so silly…)
“Ma che ca*** stai dicendo, cretino?!!! Via di qui!” (What the f*** are you saying, you idiot?!!! Get out of here!)
- The carefree
This gesture looks as if someone is dusting off their own chin with their fingernails and it means that someone doesn’t care about something that has happened or something that someone else has said or done.
It is widely used and is often accompanied by the expression:
“A me che me frega?” (I couldn’t care less.)
- The silent whisperer
This hand gesture means Let’s get out of here and it is very often a life-saver for Italian people.
Picture the scenario: a group of friends have been invited to a party. Once they get there, they realise that the party is incredibly boring and they don’t even like the host. They all know they could be doing something much more fun if they just left, but they don’t want to offend the host by saying it out loud. One of the guests looks at the others and does the hand gesture in a silent, secret way. The friends take the hint, invent some excuse and happily leave the party. No harm done.
- The judge
This is one of the most easy-to-read, straightforward of Italian hand gestures. It only has one, very explicit meaning:
“Ma guarda ‘sto imbecille!” (Look at that idiot!)
For example, it is very often used by drivers in Italy to communicate to one another that they’ve done something very stupid, perhaps even breaking the traffic code in the meantime.
- The wuss
This gesture is used when someone wants to accuse someone else of being too afraid to do something, in other words, a “fifone” (wuss).
It is often accompanied by the expression:
“Hai paura, eh??” (You’re scared, huh?)
- The rebel
This is another very explicit and straightforward hand gesture, used by Italians when they want to tell people to go to…not such a nice place.
It expresses anger at the highest level or refusal to do something.
For example, let’s imagine that a manager asked an employee to do something that the employee doesn’t want to do. When the employee will tell his/her friends about it, he/she will probably say something like:
“Col c**** che lo faccio!” – mildly translatable in English with I have no intention of doing that – while doing the hand gesture.
7. The crazy teller
As the name suggests, this hand gesture basically means You’re crazy, He’s crazy, They are crazy for doing, saying, suggesting something crazy.
8. The endgame
The last one of our list – although the list could go on forever – is the hand gesture used by Italians to make something stop or to say that they’ve had enough.
It can be used during a lovers’ discussion or by parents who want to let their children know that they’ve gone too far.
Now you’re definitely ready to go to Italy!
By Adelina Zarnescu