If you’re new to Argentina and worried about your Spanish language skills, don’t panic – you can communicate with the locals without making a sound. Everyone knows actions speak louder than words, but nowhere is this truer than in Argentina, where the way you touch your elbow means the difference between telling someone they’re stingy and telling them you’re definitely not happy. With a whole lot of Italian blood in the Argentine veins, it’s not surprising you’ll notice similarities to gesticulations from Italy. But Argentina’s gestures and body language are distinct – and easy to replicate when you know how. Let your hands, arms, eyes, and fingers do the talking with our guide to communicating like a true Argentine.
Top 10 Argentine Gestures
Point to your eye and pull down your lower eyelid using your index finger.
Be careful! Watch out or you’ll get into trouble. Protective gesture used by a concerned señora to signal that you shouldn’t tout your expensive camera so conspicuously in her barrio, and by concerned amigos to signal that cute guy/girl who starts flirting with you is a renowned Lothario. If a small child is getting on your nerves, this is also the gesture to pull out.
2. “No Se”
Stick out your lower lip as if you were a pouting child, tilt your head back slightly and flick the back of your fingers from underneath your chin.
I don’t know. No idea. Popular with taxi drivers when faced with your incomprehensible address. You can use it when someone asks you where the number 55 bus stops. “No se” lacks the rudeness of the Italian version; however, it can be used as a sign of boredom or apathy. Also see: “Don’t know, don’t care. Why are you still here?”
Bring your fingers and thumb together and point them upward. Move your hand up and down from the wrist.
A multipurpose gesture to express complete disbelief. Aka, “What the hell are you talking about? What just happened there? What the f%*k is wrong with you?” Use when a taxi driver tries to run you down on 9 de Julio or when your boyfriend expresses his new-found love of line dancing. Also use to ask someone why they’re acting like a chicken – the same gesture but opening and closing your fingers. Use both hands for when the 12th kiosko you visit cannot charge your Sube card. Do not use when the maître d tells you there’s a 20-minute wait – you’ll never get a table.
Pat your elbow with the palm of your hand.
Stingy, cheapskate. Someone who “forgets” the Malbec and brings half a lettuce and a few tomatoes to an asado.
Make a C sign while signalling the waiter across the room.
Bring me a coffee, please. A popular gesture in busy cafes when you don’t need to actually talk to the waiter but you do need him to bring you your caffeine fix, pronto.
6. “Vení (acá)”
Extend your hand with your palm facing down. Repeatedly curl your fingers up towards your palm.
Come here. As demonstrated by Danielle Artinian on YouTube, there is a right way to signal you want someone to come over, and it’s not quite the gesture you’d expect.
7. “No, No, No, No y No”
Keep your hand still and waggle your index finger back and forth.
Used by the driver of the 166 bus as he speeds past you, making your “Que?” gesture, at the 166 bus stop. No, the bus doesn’t stop there? No, the bus is out of service? No, the bus isn’t actually a bus? You’ll never know.
Make one hand into a fist. Slap palm of other hand into fist sharply.
Ha! Got ya! You’re an idiot.
9. “Hincha Pelotas”
Form ball shapes with hands. Move arms up and down.
What a pain in the neck (clean version.) Pain in the balls (unclean version, not suitable for work meetings as you are effectively miming, ahem, the action of weighing… well, you get the picture.)
10. “De Acá”
Bend your elbow into your waist, making your hand into a fist. Use the other hand to grasp the crook of your elbow. Move your arm forcibly up from the elbow.
Just got an unwarranted parking fine? Argument over items on a restaurant bill? “Sure I’ll pay it… from HERE!” Warning: do not use this gesture in front of your in-laws, boss or a nightclub bouncer unless you are prepared to take the consequences (or run away very fast).
What You Need to Know About Argentine Body Language
It is much more common in Argentina than the US or UK for someone to touch your arm or shoulder when you are talking, or stand closer than you may be used to. And whatever you do, don’t back away from the obligatory kiss when greeting friends, family and acquaintances – a kiss on the cheek when you arrive and when you leave is the done thing and it is considered rude to withhold or skip out of the party without kissing everyone goodbye. Check out The Art of the Kiss by Gareth Leonard for how to do it properly.
Be aware that the V sign hasn’t always meant “peace” – it has political connotations from the times of Perón, when it was used to signify V for vuelve (return) – support for his return from exile.
And just to be clear, when an Argentine touches their left testicle or left breast, they’re not being sexual, they’re simply trying to break a jinx (think black cat crossing path, or someone saying the “un-nameable” ex-President’s name out loud).
And, finally, if you put together the gestures from the first part of this video tutorial by Speaking Latino, you’ll be able to pay a bill, query exactly why there’s a such a hefty surcharge, demonstrate that you are a serious, respectful person but that you’d really prefer the teller got out of your life as soon as humanly possible – all without saying a word. How’s that for effective communication? Buenísimo!
Let us know in the comments below about the other ways you can communicate in Argentina using hand gestures and body language.
All photos by Louise Carr de Olmedo (thanks to my husband for modelling!).