The famous anthropologist Desmond Morris was once quoted as saying that “for human beings the hands are what the baton is for an orchestra director, guiding the rhythm and meaning of the words”. With this metaphor in mind, we can safely say that Italians, with all their non-verbal gestures, body language and signs, are “the best conductors in the world”!
Many Italian gestures derive from the Neapolitan tradition, which can be defined as the homeland of the language of gestures, even if they are now widespread across all regions of Italy. What is interesting is that some of them have such a complex meaning that they can replace not only single words but also entire sentences!
We previously looked at 20 common hand gestures Italians use in everyday life, and today, we are going to be investigating 20 more that you simply can’t do without!
1. Mh, che nervi!
Translation: Grr, how annoying!
If you see a person biting the knuckle of their finger, usually the index finger, they are probably venting their anger.
2. Caffè? Non ce n’è più!
Translation: Coffee? There’s none left!
To say “I don’t have any” or “there isn’t any left” you can keep your index finger and thumb open in the shape of a pistol and rotate your hand to the right and left.
3. Non me ne importa niente!
Translation: I don’t care at all!
If you want to show total disinterest, you can put your hand under your chin and then flick it forward in a repetitive gesture.
4. Qualcuno se l’è preso!
Translation: Somebody took it!
When you see someone open their hand and then slowly close one finger at a time, starting with the little finger, they are referring to someone with a propensity to steal!
5. Cosa hai detto?
Translation: What did you say?
If, on the other hand, you keep your hand open and place it slightly bent near the ear, it means that you have not understood, you have not heard, or want to know if the person has the courage to repeat what he or she just said.
6. Hai una sigaretta?
Translation: Do you have a cigarette?
When referring to a cigarette, because you would like one or want to go out for a smoke, you can place your index and middle fingers, slightly open, at the level of your mouth and the person in front of you will understand what you are talking about.
7) Andiamo che c’ho una fame!
Translation: Let’s go, I’m hungry!
If you are with your friends and want to tell them that you are hungry and want to go eat, you can beat your hand against your waistline, with your fingers closed and the palm turned down.
8) Faccio un attimo una telefonata
Translation: I’m just going to make a quick call.
If you want to tell someone that you need to make a phone call, you can use this gesture: open your thumb and little finger, keep your other fingers closed in a fist and bring your hand close to your ear, as if it were a telephone handset.
9) L’esame è andato così così
Translation: The exam went so-so
When you want to say that something went ” so-so” you can bend your elbow, open your hand and rotate it slightly.
10) Ma sei fuori di testa?
Translation: Are you out of your mind?
If you bend your elbow and wave your hand in front of your face, you’re telling someone they are crazy.
11) Ok, ok, per me va bene
Translation: Ok, ok, that’s fine with me
When you want to make sure that someone knows that something is fine with you, you can touch your index finger and thumb together, forming a circle, while pointing the other fingers upward.
12. Vieni qua vicino
Translation: Come over here
To tell someone to come close, we can put the palm of our hand facing down with the fingers stretched out, followed by a beckoning motion to encourage the person to walk towards us.
13) Che puzza!
Translation: What a smell/stink!
If you see a person waving their hand in front of their nose while making a disgusted expression, we can be sure there is a bad smell in the area!
14) No, non si può, è pericoloso
Translation: No, we can’t do that, it’s dangerous
When you want to tell a child, for instance, that he cannot do something, you can point your index finger upward while keeping the other fingers closed in a fist, and shake your hand from right to left.
15) Boh, non lo so proprio
Translation: I have no idea.
A gesture widely used in Italy is the one called “shrugging”. You can shrug your shoulders to say that you do not know something or that whatever the other person is talking about does not concern you.
16) Ci facciamo due spaghi?
Translation: Shall we have some spaghetti?
When a person wants to say that they would like to eat spaghetti, they can point the index and middle fingers downward as if to form the shape of a fork, and then rotate them left and right.
17) Cosa posso farci?
Translation: What can I do about it?
To say that something does not depend on you or that you cannot influence the outcome of something, you can open your hands, turn the palms up in front of your chest and shake them slightly together with your arms.
18) Ti ho visto l’altra sera
Translation: I saw you the other night
Another very famous gesture in Italian culture is used to indicate something shady: when you bend your wrist and point your fingers downwards making a circular movement, it means that someone has done something that perhaps should have been kept hidden.
19) Lui lo dice “sempre”
Translation: He says it “all the time”
When you want to show that you are being sarcastic, you can place index and middle fingers of both hands in front of your forehead and move them up and down, as if to make quotation marks.
20. C’erano tante persone? Era pieno così!
Translation: Were there many people? It was packed!
If you go to a very crowded place and want to say that there are a lot of people, you can open your hands, with your palms facing upward, and close your fingers a couple of times.
Which is your favourite Italian gesture on this list? Let us know in the comments below!
About Allegra Lucarelli: Allegra is a Family Language Consultant and Bilingual Influencer. She helps families raise their children to be bilingual and multilingual at AllegraLu.com.
Allegra Lucarelli, known professionally as allegraLu, is a certified Neurolanguage Coach for child bilingualism and a native Italian speaker who speaks English fluently. She helps families raise their children to be bilingual and multilingual at AllegraLu.com.