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Italian Hand Gestures: Talk with Hands Like a Real Italian

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Body language is such an important part of communication for both humans and animals. Charles Darwin dedicated years of study to this topic, writing his famous essay, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. And among humans, animals, and other creatures, those that use body language the most are Italians.

Italian body gestures—and, specifically, Italian hand gestures—are a complex, marvelous completion to the language, adding the emphasis Italians love so much, and sometimes even replacing the words. Body gestures in speaking Italian have the ability to add so much flair. That’s why it’s so important for everyone who loves Italy and the Italian language to learn these gestures. And we at ItalianPod101.com are here to help you master the use of the most common Italian body language and gestures!

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Table of Contents

  1. The World-Famous Italian Hand Gestures
  2. Gestionary: A Dictionary of Italian Body Language and Gestures
  3. Other Italian Body Language Expressions
  4. The Italian Hand Gesture that Shaped Heavy Metal Music
  5. Gesticulate Like a Real Italian with ItalianPod101

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1. The World-Famous Italian Hand Gestures

There’s a famous joke that says: “Do you know how to make Italians shut up? Tie their hands.” Italians talk with their hands. It’s a common known fact, like the fact that Germans are punctual and the Spanish like to go out at night.

But why? Why do Italians talk so much with their hands? Why are gestures in Italian culture so prominent? And why did Italian gestures become so famous across the world?

The New York Times has dedicated an article to the issue of, explaining that there are three theories. Italian non-verbal gestures could be: a way to communicate in an unfriendly environment, like the many foreigner dominations that held power over Italy throughout its history; a strategy to state strength and confidence in the crowded streets of Naples or Rome; a heritage of more ancient civilizations, like the Hellenic one.

Whatever the case may be, Italian gestures and body language have become known worldwide. Cinema gave a big contribution to the fame of Italian hand gestures, with immensely successful films like The Godfather, Dolce Vita, and many others.

What do Italians think about their lively body language? We’ve asked them. They replied, of course, with a gesture: waving their hand in the air, meaning “There’s so much to say!”

Italians Talk with Hands


2. Gestionary: A Dictionary of Italian Body Language and Gestures

Isabella Poggi, professor of psychology at Roma Tre University, identified 250 gestures in Italian body language. We’re not going to teach you all of them in our guide to Italian hand gestures and body language, since it’ll be too confusing. But if you’re looking for the most important Italian hand gestures meanings, here you’ll find a reply. And you’ll be able to talk with your hands like a real Italian as fast as snapping your fingers.

1 - The “What Do You Want?” Italian Hand Gesture

Pinch your fingers together and move your hand up and down. Here you have the most famous Italian gesture in the world: the “What do you want?” gesture.

  • Meaning: “What do you want from me?” (It can also mean “This makes no sense,” “What are you doing?” or simply “What?”
  • How to do it: Start by pinching your fingers together.
  • When to use it: Not in formal occasions. Use it when you don’t want someone to bother you, or when someone is doing something stupid. You can also use it when you think someone’s making fun of you.
  • Example situation: A friend is telling you a strange story and you think it’s a joke.

2 - The “It’s Very Good” Italian Hand Gesture

This is another super-famous gesture that Italians do when they really like a food they’re eating.

  • Meaning: “This food is great.”
  • How to do it: Take your index finger to your cheek and twist it.
  • When to use it: Every time you eat something good!
  • Example situation: Your Italian host asks if you like the pasta.

A Plate of Pasta

3 - The “I Don’t Care” Italian Hand Gesture

Italians have a very vivid way to express their indifference on a topic. With gestures, naturally.

  • Meaning: “I don’t care,” or “I don’t give a damn.”
  • How to do it: Brush under your chin with the upper part of your fingers.
  • When to use it: This gesture expresses contempt and disdain, and can be pretty strong.
  • Example situation: You hear a mean rumor about a friend, and you want to state that you don’t believe it and don’t care.

4 - The “I Don’t Know” Italian Hand Gesture

Italians love to add a fatalistic inflection to the things they say, and this gesture is perfect to do it. It’s not only a quick way to state that you don’t know something, but also a gesture that signifies that you can’t do anything about it and you’re in the hands of the providence.

  • Meaning: “I don’t know,” and also “There’s nothing I can do about it.”
  • How to do it: Shrug your shoulders and open your arms with palms up. Add a “boh,” and you’re the perfect Italian.
  • When to use it: Whenever you don’t know something and there’s nothing you can do to know more.
  • Example situation: When you’re waiting for a bus in Rome and someone asks you when it should arrive.

5 - The “So Much” Italian Hand Gesture

The Italian hand gestures language has a solution for every communication need. That includes a wide expression like this one.

  • Meaning: “So much.”
  • How to do it: Make a circle with your hand in the air.
  • When to use it: Use this gesture if something is “so much” (very) beautiful, if someone is “so much” dramatic, if a restaurant is “so much” good, etc…
  • Example situation: When someone asks you if Florence is beautiful and you want to simply say “So much!”

6 - The “I Can’t Stand this Thing/Person” Italian Hand Gesture

You can’t stand something or someone? Tell it to your Italian friends with this lively gesture.

  • Meaning: “I can’t stand this thing/person.”
  • How to do it: Pinch your fingers together, point them to the ground, and tap your hand on your chest, as though something very heavy was stuck into your stomach.
  • When to use it: When you can’t stand a person or a thing.
  • Example situation: When someone asks you what you think of an unpleasant colleague.

7 - The “Are You Crazy?” Italian Hand Gesture

This is a gesture that can be very useful in life. But be careful; it can be offensive, too.

  • Meaning: “Are you crazy?” or “Are you out of your mind?”
  • How to do it: Wave your hand in front of your face like you were sending a fly away.
  • When to use it: When someone behaves in a foolish, incomprehensible, or crazy way. Careful, it can be offensive.
  • Example situation: When someone tells you that French wine is better than Italian wine.


3. Other Italian Body Language Expressions

There are so many Italian body language and hand gestures that it’s impossible to make a complete list. But here are some other body language expressions you should know:

  • Nodding your head: “Yes.”
  • Shaking your head: “No.”
  • Wrinkling your nose: “I don’t like it.”
  • Moving your head from left to right: “I’m undecided.”
  • Assuming a posture with your head and shoulders low, looking at the ground: “I’m resigned.”


4. The Italian Hand Gesture that Shaped Heavy Metal Music

The Italian hand gestures language has a long and complicated history. Probably born in ancient Greece, it became part of the Italian way of communication. From there, it spread to the entire world, especially to North and South America.

And since body language survives through the most revolutionary events (like moving to another continent), unlike spoken language, North and South Americans of Italian heritage still use many of the typical Italian hand gestures, even if they haven’t spoken the language in generations. It’s part of their culture, identity, and tradition.

And through migrants, Italian body language has made its way to the very top of the movies industry. Who could forget the last scene of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, where he’s playing in the garden with his grandson and calls him with the typical Italian beckoning gesture?

The Godfather

But there’s a gesture that has made the most unpredictable travel in world culture. It’s a spell to push bad luck away, used especially in Southern Italy, and is done by raising your index and little fingers like horns.

Every heavy metal fan has seen this gesture on the hands of the most famous stars of the genre. It’s said that it was brought to the metal music world by Ronnie James Dio, a singer who copied his Italian grandmother.


5. Gesticulate Like a Real Italian with ItalianPod101

Body gestures in learning Italian are essential, and body language is a crucial part of the way Italians communicate. But there’s a bright side: It’s so fun to learn it! Here at ItalianPod101.com, we’ll guide you through every aspect of the Italian language, from grammar to culture, from verbs to onomatopoeia. And with our courses and learning apps, you’ll behave, talk, and gesticulate like an Italian in no time!

There’s so much more to say about Italian hand gestures alone, that we at ItalianPod101.com have decided to dedicate more articles and guides to the topic, completely free. Be sure to keep an eye out!

Before you go, let us know which of these Italian gestures is your favorite by dropping a comment below. Also, are there any other Italian body language signals you want us to cover? We look forward to hearing from you! Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet - How to Improve Your Italian Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

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