Your Guide to Italian Hand Gestures

When I saw a wonderfully tongue-in-check short documentary on Italian hand gestures in The New York Times, I couldn’t help but smile.

The topic of Italian hand gestures comes up in conversation so often: What are they? What do they mean? How many are there?

There are at least 250 Italian hand gestures throughout the country, and some scholar say that many gestures are used by the average Italian every day.

Many are recognizable throughout western civilization, such as scribbling in the air with an imaginary pen to get the waiter to bring the check or holding a cupped hand to your ear to indicate that you didn’t hear someone. Others are decidedly Italian, difficult for locals to explain to foreigners and confounding visitors ability to understand what’s going on.

Practice some of the most frequent gestures and you’ll fit right in in Italy:

  • “What on earth?” pinch thumb to fingers and shake in front of you

  • “Delicious!” point finger, touch cheek, and rotate back and forth

  • “Ti prego!/Pleeeeeease” lock hands as if in prayer, hold against chest and shake slightly

  • “What on earth are you talking about?” the reverse of ti prego; shake prayer hands slowly away from body

  • “Occhio/beware” touch pointer finger below eye and pull down slightly

A great way to learn Italian hand gestures is to watch Italian films (from home) or to people watch in a cafe (in Italy or if you're lucky enough to live in or near a city with a Littly Italy).

Hope this video brightened your holiday season!

Happy holidays,

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