Italian Gestures And Body Language

When you arrive in Florence the first thing that you’ll notice is that people are staring at you. They stare at you when you walk into a restaurant, they stare at you while you’re eating, they stare at you while you walk down the street. Believe it or not, it’s not because you’re foreign, or a woman, or because of your hair. Sure, they might stare a little more for these reasons but the truth is that Italians stare. They stare at other Italians too. It’s not considered rude here and people are really into watching other people. It’s annoying but eventually you’ll get used to it.

The second thing you might notice is that everyone seems annoyed or angry. There is screaming in the street, screaming in the coffee shop, and when you ask a question someone answers you quickly and without a smile. Oddly enough, they’re not being rude. Italians don’t smile a lot when they are conducting customer service. They also scream when they are talking about nothing at all and gesture wildly pretty much all the time. What looks like two men screaming at each other is usually just two men talking about their wives cake, or a soccer game, or how warm it is outside. The Italian people practically convulse when they speak, they often lock eye contact, and raise their voices because they are just so excited about what they’re saying. Real aggression here is insanely rare (compared to the US) though it certainly seems like the entire country is full of angry people.

Graphic By Alfredo Cassano

Graphic By Alfredo Cassano

14 thoughts on “Italian Gestures And Body Language

  1. It´s true that people do not smile so often…I´m an italian living abroad and I tend to notice this more and more every time I come back

  2. Pingback: Frequently Asked Questions: Studying, Moving, Working, Loving In Florence, Italy | Living In Italy.Moving To Italy. Loving In Italy. Laughing In Italy.

  3. Dear Miss Misty Evans,
    I am a 19 year old US immigrant from the Philippines, who is still struggling with destructive depression brought by nostalgia. I cannot remember how I stumbled upon your page. My plans in life do not involve Italy (well, not yet… not at this point of my life, at least), though I have always been fascinated by Italian culture, or traveling and getting to know different cultures in general.
    I just want to say you are an awesome person. I love everything you say and you will say about anything. You are a breath of fresh air in my odious and lame life.

    You are amazing.

    With love,

    • Josefa,

      Unfortunately depression and nostalgia are things that all expats go through at one point in their lives abroad. It can be really sad, isolating, and difficult to live so far from your friends and family in a culture that isn’t natural or native to you. Just remember, we’ve all been through it! Just try to make friends, force yourself to join a few groups and learn a new skill. Document your journey and turn it into a project. In the end, you’ll have us and the community here. We’ve got a large community here of people who feel exactly like you do. It’s going to be okay. 🙂

      Thank you for the kind words Josefa. I appreciate it more than you know.


  4. Pingback: Writing in a Foreign Language: Key Italian Phrases from A Valediction

  5. Some of these gestures are really unpolite but still usable between friends. The one I really don’t like is the “I don’t care”. One of the worst italian behaviours and there’s nothing more enervating when they do it in front of you, when you just ask for a rule or a law to be applied. By the way, it’s tipically southern.

  6. “Italians don’t smile a lot when they are conducting customer service.”

    I found that out the hard way when I made an inquiry at Rome’s Termini Station.

    A friend and I approached a ticket agent to ask about the train schedule to Florence and have our tickets validated. We didn’t speak Italian and the agent spoke limited English.

    I tried to meet her halfway by using simple English and going slow. But before I could finish my question, she cut me off by rudely asking, “What do you want?!!”

    So I tried to tell her what I wanted, to which she cut me off again with the same question and attitude. A third attempt also met the same fate.

    It took me a while to figure out that what she really intended to ask was “Where do you want to go?” When I said Florence, she calmed down and directed us to another window, where a more polite agent helped us with our request.

    I guess her initial rudeness stemmed from a combination of: 1) her limited English; 2) my inability to speak Italian; and 3) the frustration of dealing with the public every day. And if she wasn’t paid well for her efforts, then that’s #4.

    Fortunately, such people were the exception during our time in Italy. I remember the ticket agent at the Fiumicino Airport station even joked with me when I bought tickets to get to Rome a day earlier.

  7. I had to do a search on this because I just returned from Puglia and Basilicata, and I’ve never been stared at like that in my life. I live in Paris (American in Paris) and people pretty much leave each other alone here, not a lot of staring. I’ve also been several times to Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Amalfi Coast….no staring, but in Puglia and Basilicata, whoa! It did not make matters better that I was walking around taking pictures (it’s gorgeous afterall) in the middle of the afternoon when it was time for siesta. All of the older men and women gave me the mean staredown. I was walking along in Martina Franca and a woman passed, but then stopped and turned around and told me in Italian not to take her picture. What the? You guys invented paparrazi afterall, and I wasn’t going to take your damn picture lady! I didn’t get it. People were looking at me like I was carrying a machine gun. I put the camera away but they still stared. In Paris, we say bonjour even to strangers as a matter of politeness. So I said buongiorno to a lady I passed as we looked at each other. Big mistake! She kind of growled at me! That said, I also had nice interactions with many people, and in general I noticed the younger people didn’t really stare, it was usually the older folks. I love Italy and plan to visit often, but this kind of freaked me out, like they were thinking GO HOME WEIRD WOMAN WITH THE CAMERA. I love your blog, thank you for the great content!!!

  8. Almost 4 years ago, when I first face planted on Italian soil armed with zero Italian linguistic skills, I recall seeing a man and a woman screaming at each other and waving their hands violently in each other’s faces. As I attempted to alert airport security, my Italian companion just shooshed me and said, “No worries, they’re just discussing what to have for dinner.” Fast forward years later, my Itailan companion just told me to “stop yelling at him” as we discussed how worthless soccer is. I mean a score of 0-1 hardly classifies as a ventureful sport. Incredulously, I glared at him and said, “Love, no frying pans are flying through the air at your landing pad of a head, nor are my hands flapping around like UH-1 propellers. I’m merely speaking at an Italian volume. Capito?” Yes, I know, I know, it took almost 4 years, but finally I have arrived.

  9. Pingback: Cultural Shock – When in Rome

  10. I have a penpal from Italy and I was trying to search some articles about common Italian body language. It’s nice to find this post and the vivid picture tells everything.

Tell Us What You Think Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s