A Symphony of Italian Hand Gestures

A beauty to behold.

Yes, Italian hand gestures contain a fluidity and artistry that continues to amaze me. Italians must have something built into their genes that makes them so adept at this kind of visual poetry. While I speak with my hands, much like my artistic mother, I was taught, growing up, restraint in this regard. I was adominished to keep my hands to myself and to be mindful of encroaching upon another person’s space. Today, if I tried to emulate this innate talent for non-verbal communications that Italians use so effortlessly, I’m afraid I would be the laughing stock of all around me.

So, for this week’s post, I’ve decided to share with you a few of my favorite images showing the art of Italian hand gestures in action. I will keep my commentary to a minimum and let the images speak mostly for themselves. 

The title of each photo is the result of my playful imagination.

I ask myself, “What is the essence of this particular moment?” Italian hand gestures are plentiful and surely couldn’t be contained in just a few pages of explanation. And, like yet another foreign language, I can easily misinterpret what I see.

Italian Hand Gestures, Jed Smith Photography

Punctuation. © 2018 Jed Smith

I call the above image “Punctuation” because Italians employ their hands as an even better punctuation system than grammatical punctuation. Believe me, being married to an Italian has reminded me of this time and time again.

Italian Hand Gestures, Jed Smith Photography

What More Could You Ask? © 2018 Jed Smith

The hands lead and the body and mouth follow along.

Maybe this is a chicken-or-the-egg type thing, but I believe Italians begin communicating with their hands. And, often times the hands and body alone do the most effective speaking. And for that reason, I’ve been cautioned to stay away pretty much altogether from trying to speak with my hands like an Italian. I’m told I could easily miscommunicate and land myself if an uncomfortable situation.

Italian Hand Gestures, Jed Smith Photography

Wait a second! © 2018 Jed Smith

This is one of my favorite photos. I love that this middle-aged woman has dragged a chair from inside her house and parked herself canalside for a lively chat. No doubt this fellow is commanding the “floor” and is sharing a story with great flourish. Once an Italian conversation gets into full swing it seems as though it can be a bit of a free-for-all with people talking over one another. When I’ve pointed out to my Italian friends that I would’ve gotten a good pinch from my mother if I didn’t politely wait my turn in a conversation, I’ve been told that this is simply the Italian way, and to not be offended. Oh, and to get used to it.

Italian Hand Gestures, Jed Smith Photography

It Goes Like This. © 2018 Jed Smith

Italian hand gestures make for great storytelling.

I love how Italians can weave a spell and create emotion and context by the artful use of their hands. Explanations often are infused with greater clarity when a person uses their hands. I consider it an extra level of information. When I’m back visiting in the States I’m struck by how restrained most people are with using their hands (flipping off other people off in traffic aside) and bodies to communicate. Italians own this talent handily (oh, that was a bad pun, wasn’t it?).

Italian Hand Gestures, Jed Smith Photography

And so… © 2018 Jed Smith

I close with what I consider a goldmine opportunity for observing Italian hand gestures: the good old boys you’ll find clustered on park benches in every city and town in Italy. In the image above I see a man fully engrossed in telling his story, while one man remains attentive and the other is thinking “Hmm, I’m not so sure about that.” But, who knows!

Perhaps I will have a caption contest one of these days with hand gestures as a theme. I’m sure it would be a barrel of fun, especially if we could compare the entries to the real content of conversations!

Be sure to check out a previous post which links to a book which is a great resource for boning up on the language of Italian hand gestures.

By |2020-04-24T16:17:40+02:00June 14th, 2018|Black & White, Italian Culture, Speaking Italian|9 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Kathryn Smith February 20, 2019 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    Any of these would make a great painting, but don’t attempt the one with the lady sitting in her chair watching the two men. Capturing the patterns on her blouse would make you batty! Love all of these!

    • Jed February 20, 2019 at 4:53 pm - Reply

      Yeah, I’m pretty much done painting patterns that could end up permanently crossing my eyes! Glad you lie!

  2. Chip June 15, 2018 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    Jed, I commented earlier, but this time it didn’t take on my phone. The Italian way of expression takes some getting used to for Americans! That “In your face!” Combined with all of that “gesticulating!” could quickly lead to an “ass whupping” of some sort, but once you realize that is simply part of the language, … Hell, kick back and enjoy the ride! You might learn something!
    Thanks again Brother! Enjoy the weekend!

    • Jed June 20, 2018 at 4:40 pm - Reply

      You are so right, Chip. I have to be careful about rushing to interpret what I think is going on. Too often I’m way off the mark!

  3. Susan June 14, 2018 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Wonderful! Great, illustrative photos, as always. xo

  4. Debra June 14, 2018 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    Hey Jed….
    I will pay better attention when I go back to Sulmona in October. I’ve noticed the talking over one another….lol….love it!

  5. John June 14, 2018 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    I love it. Great Post Jed. Miss you.

  6. Nancy June 14, 2018 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    Hi Jed! I totally love Italian hand gestures. Only a couple seem to come out of me naturally and I think that’s key. If you force it they don’t seem natural.
    Anyway, just making sure you’ve seen Marco in a Box. He has a video on hand gestures.
    He has other good ones too. ????

    • Jed June 14, 2018 at 4:34 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing the video, Nancy! Hope all is well.

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