Hand Gestures: Reasons Why Italians Use Them

Hand Gestures: Reasons Why Italians Use Them


By Geralde Vincent-Bancroft

When you think of hand gestures, what country comes to mind? If you said Italy, you’re correct! Italians are well known for their hand gestures, which they use to communicate with each other. But why do they use them so much? And what do these hand gestures mean? In this blog post, we will explore the fascinating history and meanings behind Italian hand gestures. 

We will also take a look at some of the most popular ones used in Italy and what they mean. So, whether you are planning on travelling to Italy or just want to learn more about their culture, be sure to read on!

A hand with 5 fingers touching each other and overlaid the words hand gestures the fascinating reasons the Italian use them.

The use of hand gestures in Italy is a form of non-verbal communication and expression. The gestures within the Italian lexicon are dominated by movements that involve both hands as well facial features such as eyebrows or mouth which can be moved to communicate thoughts, feelings etcetera without having any need for words! 

History of hand gestures in Italy

It is believed that  hand gestures originated in Italy as a way for people to communicate without having to use words. This was especially useful during times of war or conflict when speaking out loud could be dangerous. Over time, they have become an integral part of Italian culture and are now used daily.

The professor of Italian culture, de Jorio believes that hand gestures were introduced to Southern Italy by the Romans. But others believe that they were developed during the occupation of Italy by the Germanic tribes,Moors in the Middle Ages, the French, Spanish, and Austrians. Regardless of their origin, hand gestures are an important part of Italian culture and are used by people of all ages.

Why are hand gestures prevalent in Italy nowadays?

There are a few different theories as to why hand gestures are so prevalent in Italy. One theory is that it is simply because Italians are very passionate people and tend to use their hands when they speak. Another theory is that they help Italians to better express themselves, as many words in the Italian language have multiple meanings. This can often be confusing so using hand gestures can help to make the meaning of a sentence clearer.

Whatever the reason may be, there is no doubt that hand gestures are an important part of Italian culture. If you are planning on travelling to Italy, it is worth taking some time to learn about the most popular hand gestures and their meanings. This way, you will be able to communicate with Italians more easily and maybe even make some new friends!

Difference between North and South

There is a difference between the north and the south in the meaning of certain gestures. For example, People use the ‘chin flick’ differently across Italy. In Northern regions, it means “get lost” while in Southern areas of the country this gesture merely means “no or not available for whatever reason.”

Role of hand gestures in communication

In Italian culture, hand gestures have always served an important function. They contribute to the expression and indication of emotion as well as substitute for verbal communication when needed.

They are a form of expression in Italy and they are an integral part of conversation. This prevalence is due, on one hand, to the need for visibility where people want their message heard; and on the other hand it is a means to diminish competition in their subconscious quest to be more visible.

Hand gestures are  also a form of cultural coding in Italy that children carry out without realising it. They imitate their parents and peers’ behaviours which causes them to develop gesticulating during conversation as an automatic habit

Some of the most popular hand gestures used in Italy

Now that we have explored the history and meaning of hand gestures in Italy, let’s take a look at some of the most popular hand gestures used by Italians.

The first sign on our list is the “OK” sign. You can make it by holding up your hand with the thumb and index finger touching to form a circle. Use this hand gesture to indicate that everything is fine or that you agree with something.

Ok sign

Next on our list is “Che vuoi?” It means either “What do you want?” or “What do you mean?” keep the tips of your fingers together touching each other and pointing upward. 

What do you want?

“Please do me a favour” Put your palms devoutly and press them in front of the chest.

Please, do me a favour

“Un momento” “Just a minute”. Raised hand held palm forward at eye level, calls for attention to add an explanation or raise an objection.

Just a minute

“Telefonami” means “call me”. The hand points to your ear and the index finger makes a dialling


Call me

“Perfect” The thumb and index finger form a circle, with the other three fingers extended.


“Eccelente” “Excellent. Bunch ten fingers together and lift them to the same height as the mouth. Then use them to touch the lips.

Perfect or excellent

“Delicious” Put the index finger on the cheek or touch tips of all fingers of one hand together and kiss them while extending the arm away from the mouth. 


“Non me ne importa” The hand touches the chin then moves forward meaning I don’t care.

I don’t care

“Se l’intendono” “Secret liaison”. Bring the index fingers of both hands sharply together and hold parallel for a moment to indicate that two people have reached an understanding, or they are meeting in private. 

Secret liaison

“Corna” “Horns”. The hand forms horns, but points upward. It means that the other person’s partner is cheating  on them. 

They are cheating on him/her

If the index and the little finger of the hand jab downwards, it is a protective gesture to ward off the “evil eye”.

“Io non so niente” “ It has nothing to do with me”, or “none of my business”. Lift both palms of your hand to your face level

None of my business


Do Italians use hand gestures more than people from other cultures?

It’s hard to say for sure, but it seems like Italians might just be the champions when it comes to using hand gestures!

 Whether they’re gesticulating while they speak or using hand gestures to emphasise a point, Italians definitely know how to use their hands.

So, the next time you see an Italian using hand gestures, don’t be afraid to join in! You might just find yourself communicating in a whole new way. 

Thanks for reading!


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