“What are you on about?”
The best-known Italian gesture is the waving of the hand with fingers together. This is often accompanied by phrases like “ma cosa stai dicendo?” (“What are you talking about?”) or “Ma perchè?” (“But why?”). You will see this gesture everywhere as you travel around Italy and it means that the person you’re talking to doesn’t agree with wht you are saying and that your opinion is “sciocchezza” (“rubbish”).
“It’s all the same to me”
If you want to express indifference (more often than not feigned) to a given situation, don’t choose long words – just hold your hand palm down to your chin and move it back and forth. This gesture means “I don’t care”, “it’s all the same to me” or “I couldn’t care less”.
If you want to make friends with waiters in restaurants and maybe get a bit more wine in your glass, make sure you say nice things about the food where you are eating. Italians are obsessed with how much better the spaghetti is in their region/town/street than anywhere else in the world. If words are not enough, just put your index finger to your cheek and smile as you rotate it.
“Really tasty! Delicious!”
If you enjoyed a meal so much that you’d order a second portion even though it cost you €20.00, steeple the fingers of both hands together, put them to your mouth, kiss them and then open up your palms 5-10cm from your face.
What do you do if someone invites you to an event which looks a bit doubtful and you’re worried that it might not be for you? Do the same with your hand as you would for “what are you on about?” but open and close your fist a few times. This gesture means “I’m scared” (“Ho paura”). You can use it when you want to dare an Italian friend to do something, like “I dare you to eat two pizzas on your own?!” (Spoiler: they’ll do it).
“That costs too much!”
Overpriced tomatoes on a Tuscan market, parmesan cheese at astronomical prices – it’s time to haggle. Once again, squeeze you fingers on one hand together like in the previous gesture but don’t clench and unclench, rub them against each other. This is the first step to getting a lower price (if for no other reason than you’re really getting the hang of the language of gestures!).
“This is a gesture often seen at rap events – shaking the “dust” from the shoulders – but it originated in Italy. Of course, it means “I did well, I’m the best!”
“God, when will this ever end?”
You’ve wasted the whole day dealing with paperwork, or one of your mates is boring you senseless about their job in a bank – one gesture will easily show how you feel about this. Simply fold your arms with your palms facing your chest and shake them (your palms…)
If you’ve managed to complete something before it was due, you got something finished before lunch or managed to get that meal cooked for the whole family on time, rub your hands together as if you were trying to dry them.
“Get lost!/Let’s go!”
If you and your friends need to get away from the family so as not to be late for a party but you don’t want to upset grandma, bend your elbow at chest level and, with your fingers squeezed together against your thumb and palm towards your chest, move your hand up and down quickly. This means “it’s time to go”. It’s also used to tell someone that you have had enough of them and that they should leave.
‘You’ve gone mad”
How do you explain to your friends that your ex-girlfriend (who you bumped into on the street) is mad but at the same time, you don’t want to make a fuss? Put your hand up vertically in front of your face at eye-level and wave from side to side as if you were waving smoke out of your eyes. This means that someone is not all there.
Italians have specific gestures for nearly every situation. The main thing to remember is that, unlike the Italian language, which varies considerably from region to region (dozens, maybe hundreds of dialects nationwide), these gestures will be understood everywhere, from Aosta to Syracuse. So put down the phrasebook and get in front of the mirror and start practicing.