Publish Date: November 30, 2016      Author: Matteo Preabianca


When you learn a language, even our body is involved in the learning process. Especially our hands and our heads. Gestures are a fundamental part of the language experience and they  are often difficult to understand and explain. So,  I asked myself: are you sure that gesture is Italian?

The majority of people in the world move the head from left to right when they say no. However, except the “Indian Yes,” when our “No” is, in fact, a Yes, an area is the exception. Greek people use a gesture similar to that one used by children, breaking away from the nipple of the mother, after feeding.

Think about it. They move the head, “flipping” upwards.
And what to do with Italy and Italian language?

Some researchers were surprised to find this gesture even in Southern Italy. From Rome up to the tip of Northern Italy, people use the classic “No”, as in the rest of Europe, but from Naples till Sicily,  the  “Greek No” is the king.

Why? The answer lies in ancient history: more than 2000 years ago,  Greeks colonized Southern Italy, leaving a mark of their culture. Gestures included.
To be more precise, a frontier gesture.

An imaginary line between Rome and Naples where their No overtakes  the classic one. This line is within Matese region( it is a chain of mountains in central Italy, around central-southern Apennines, it straddles two region, Molise and Campania) . It is an amazing fact that  it is exactly over there the precise landmark where the Greek expansion ended.

Even today, the Italian gestures pay  respect to the old frontier: the body language is very conservative.

Another gesture that, perhaps, still comes from Greece is “la mano fico” (the fig hand), which is a colloquial term to define the female genital, or the fruit of a fig tree.

Furthermore, in some special circumstances, women in ancient Greece,  exposing their genitals to break a potential black magic spell. This curious ceremony is also described in some cave paintings of some Christian churches. The idea was to distract any evil spirits, showing the female essence.

Apart from this funny hand, there are some gestures shared with other cultures, but with  a complete different meanings. For example, if an Italian guy touches his earlobe, he is saying to another man, “you are a little effeminate … you should wear earrings.” In a strict heterosexual context, suggesting a man to be effeminate can easily lead to an explosion of anger, or even worse,  violence …

…hoping they are not Portuguese. In Portugal, the same gesture means that something is very good, special, fantastic!

Let’s hope they don’t do that in Italy.


For more information, and fun, take a look at these videos:

The  fabulous Indian headshakes, some Greek gestures by some Greek lovers and an American guy tries to explain some Portuguese gestures. Don’t you notice any differences?

And the Grand Final with Il  Maestro of gestures. The best Italian gestures collection.


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