Italian Gestures You Really Need to Know Before You Go


There are so many things to do in Italy and it’s a place that has become a favourite among discerning travellers the world over. We all know and love it as a nation of flamboyant people who are revered for their welcoming culture. They’re also recognised for their intense passion for communication, fervent chit chat and dramatic hand gestures. In fact, get into conversation with an Italian and you will find that most of the talking is done with the hands; they are literally never still!

For Italians, a shrug of the shoulder, a raise of an eyebrow or a flip of the wrist says a lot more than most words can. Body language to an Italian is all about making your point and hands are as important to conversation as punctuation is to writing. In fact, it is hard to believe, but even before the ‘no driving while on a mobile’ rule came into force, an Italian driver would still pull over to have their phone conversation, because they couldn’t drive and have a chat when all hands were otherwise engaged. In the days of the phone booth it was a common sight to see the user standing outside of the booth so they had room to express themselves while they were chatting.


Where do the Gestures Come From?

It’s incredible to think that there are around 250 different gestures used by Italians on a daily basis. Not many conversations happen without one! There is no doubt that the gestures come from the Italians' love of theatrical expression, but they also partly originate from the fact that the history of this country saw many occupations by other cultures, who brought with them their own languages and mannerisms. With such an eclectic history when it came to multi-culture, there were often language barriers and people had to develop a way of communicating that was easier than speech. These flamboyant actions have never been lost and make up a big part of conversation today.

Fact: It is not just about the hands when it comes to gesticulation. The face, the posture and the body all play a role in communicating a message.

If you’re looking forward to your trip, and getting excited about all the things to do in Italy that are going to make your holiday memories, take a moment to learn a few Italian hand signs that might help you get even more out of your experience.

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A Guide to the Hand Gestures

The fact that Italians use so many gestures is really useful for anyone who is not so familiar with the language. You can always pat your stomach if you don't know how to say you’re hungry, and you can hold your nose if something smells and you don’t know the phrase ‘che puzza!’.
The best way to get to grips with the expressive way people speak in Italy is really to just watch them. Relax in a local cafe in a sunny piazza and simply observe. You will learn so much from doing that, but here are a few classic gestures to get you started.

Cheek Screw

With an extended index finger of one hand, screw it into the cheek. This means ‘delicious’. Mums and dads are often seen using this gesture when encouraging their children to eat. Waiters might also use this to recommend a particularly tasty dish on the menu.

Chin Flick

Bend your arm and turn your palm and fingers to your body. Bring your hands to your throat, run your fingers upwards from your neck to the tip of your chin. Politely put, this means ‘I really don’t care’, but can mean something a little stronger too, so use it with caution.

The Spaghettata

With your index finger and middle finger, you imitate a fork picking up spaghetti. This one literally means that you fancy some spaghetti. Eating spaghetti is clearly a must when it comes to things to do in Italy, so you may find yourself using this quite a bit!

The Anti-evil Eye / Horns

Stretch your little finger and index finger with your hand facing downwards to look like horns, then flick the wrist downwards to emphasise the action. This one is used as a symbol of protection from the evil eye. When a person makes this gesture they will usually have an accompanying worried look on their face. You can use this against anyone you think might be saying something bad about you.

The Pinecone

Take one hand and bunch the fingers together with the tips touching and pointed upwards. With your hand held away from the body you can move it up and down at the wrist or hold it still. It means ‘what do you really want?’ or ‘what do you mean?’, or ‘but WHY?’

Prayer Clasp

As if you are praying, bring your palms together and extend the fingers. Hold the hands in front of the chest as if you were praying. It means ‘please will you do me a favour’.

Finger Kiss

Make sure your fingers are together and then lift your hand to your mouth. Touch your lips with your fingers. This translates as ‘excellent!’, or ‘you deserve a kiss’.

Temple Point

Bringing your index finger close to the temple on the side of your head means ‘don’t be so stupid!’

Line in the Air

This one, which means ‘perfect!’, is when you press your thumb and index finger of one hand together and draw an imaginary horizontal line in the air.

Eyelid Pull

To articulate ‘watch out!’ or ‘pay attention’ without saying a word, an Italian will use an index finger and tug at the bottom of their eyelid.

Fingers Crossed

Bring the index fingers of both hands together to make an ‘x’ shape in front of your mouth. It means ‘I swear it’, or ‘I promise it’. By making this gesture you are also signalling that you will stay quiet and not say a word.

Circle in the Air

This is a gesture you’ll see a lot when you are making your way through your list of things to do in Italy. With the hand at your side, extend one index finger and draw a small circle in the air. It means ‘See you later! Catch up soon!’


It is a good idea to practice your hand gestures before you travel. Grab a friend and have a go at including some in your conversation. You don’t want to get it wrong when you are actually on location! When it comes to planning things to do in Italy, why not contact us at Walkabout Florence for tips and advice on how best to spend your time?

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Here at Walkabout Florence, we want all of our clients to get to know this magnificent part of Italy. History, culture, food and wine are ingrained in every part of Italian life. We recommend Florence as a wonderful base for exploring and getting involved in any of our amazing day trips. Get in touch to book now or just to chat to one of our team to help you start planning your next Italian adventure.

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