The Art & Sense of Italian Gestures

The other day an Italian came up to me and started in on a joke. “How do you get an Italian to shut up?” he said. Not wanting to offend him, I struggled to find a suitable answer. He then answered it saying, “You tie their hands be their backs” and I laughed a little. He punched me in the face.

This didn’t actually happen, but I think we’ve all been in that situation when the spoken language isn’t the only thing needing to be translated. Italian are renowned for talking with their hands and whether the translation actually hits you in the face or just generalizes what you can only guess as the size of a pizza, below are some gestures to remember.



“Come here” or “Vieni Qui” in Italian. It’s used to direct you from across a room, most likely by an old Italian lady who has a piece of advice for a young kid such as yourself.




“One moment, please” or “May I speak to you?” but said with “un momento.” Use this to avoid that awkward moment when your waiter comes and you don’t know what you want. Generally followed by a “per favore.”




Used to tell someone they’re clever it’s usually a gesture only, without the words “che furbo.” Again, watch out for the old Italian lady who just gave you advice.




“What do you expect?” is spoken with “Ma che vuoi?” Let’s say your friend gets bumped by a local on a narrow sidewalk, use this with repetitive shaking on the hand gesture for extra emphasis. After all, it is Italy.




“Are you crazy?” or “sei pazzo?” is a great way to rag on your friends. “Let’s get up early to watch the sunrise,” your friend says. “Sei pazzo?” you say as you tap the side of your head.





Enough! or “basta!” This comes in handy (pun intended) when you just ate a pizza with a 2-foot diameter and the waiter offers you coffee or desert.






By Jake Sheets

[image via]


Categories: Life Abroad, Lifestyle

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