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A traveller's guide to Italian hand gestures


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7th July 2012

Italians let their hands do the talking. Now you can too

It’s a bit of a cliché how expressive Italians are with their hands. But spend any time in the country and you’ll find yourself waving you arms around a whole lot more too. Why use words when a strategically placed digit or two can say so much more?

I spent a number of months travelling around Italy on a Vespa and one of the gestures I found myself using a lot was the one that means ‘You’re breaking my balls!’ Readers of my book, Vroom by the Sea, may even remember the scene where I use it in Sardinia to express my frustration at the sour-faced old cow who insisted I move my Vespa from a shady spot under a tree at Nuraghe Sant’ Antine. She remained nonplussed and may have well flicked back her very own gesture when I wasn't looking.

What I didn’t mention in the book was the time a carelessly flicked gesture nearly got me into a fight. I’d just arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo, the pilgrim town dedicated to all things Padre Pio, and got cut off at a roundabout by the Italian equivalent of the white van man, the beat-up ape man (apes are the tiny three-wheel vehicles Italians use as delivery vans). Without thinking I gave him the bird and he spent the next ten minutes chasing me around the town, sending flocks of nuns and pilgrims scattering in the process.

Thankfully, his underpowered ape was no match to the awesome power of Marcello, my 30-year-old Rally 200, and I was able to lose him by overtaking the tourist ‘train’ just as it was pulling up outside the pilgrimage church designed by Renzo Piano. But it was a lesson that Italians take their hand gestures very, very seriously.

So, it is with a word of caution I present a Traveller’s Guide to rude Italian hand gestures I came across on YouTube.

Remember: With great hand gestures comes great responsibility. Use your new found communication skills wisely.

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