Italians Talk with Hands
"Be handy, be Italian!"

How do you give an Italian a speech impediment?
Break one of their arms.
Old joke

If you have an Italian character (or a character with Italian origins) and you want to point it out clearly, you're probably going to have him/her gesticulate every time he/she says something relevant.

However, it's not just a stereotype.

Exaggerations apart, this trope is a case of Truth in Television. It isn't strictly Italian, though, the custom being common around the Mediterranean (Greeks, Lebanese, Spaniards and Egyptians are all widely noted for their fondness for gesticulation), owing to a long history of trade and other interaction between peoples who speak different languages (gestures can get a message across well even with the most limited of speech). Note though that not only do movies wildly exaggerate the whole thing but actually, most Italians don't gesticulate at all; needless to say, this trope tends to annoy them quite a lot.

Not necessarily related to Signed Language.


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     Anime And Manga  

     Fan Works 


  • Italian comedies are full of this trope.
  • Happens a lot, of course, in virtually any movie about the Italian Mafia.
  • In Mission: Impossible III, we see this outside the Vatican.
  • The main character of Eat, Pray, Love is told that Italian is spoken with the hands.
  • In Inglourious Bastards, the three American soldiers who have to impersonate Italians (without speaking a word of it) at a Nazi party punctuate every sentence with arm gestures. The guy they're trying to fool isn't (primarily because of his own mastery of the language), but goes along with the act since it's so funny.
  • In Napoléon, somebody at the war council held by the forces defending Toulon (which is described by the intertitles as "a veritable Tower of Babel"—five languages are spoken: English, German, Spanish, Italian, and French) laments:
    "Italians speak with their hands."

  • There's a joke on the varied warnings against talking to bus drivers. The joke says that, in Italy, the warning says not to talk to the driver because they need their hands to drive.
  • How do you silence an Italian? Bind his hands. (Truth in Television, as two Italians talking can be observed trying to restrain each other's gesticulating hands to ensure that they get a turn to talk.)


  • Earth (The Book), on the development of verbal language:
    As our larynxes descended, we were able to make sounds with our mouths in new and far more expressive ways. Verbal language soon overtook physical gesturing as the primary means of communication for all human beings except Italians.
  • Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need claims that the Dutch speak "Dutch, English, French, German, Flemish and Frantic Arm Gestures".
  • The very first time Percy Jackson spots siblings Bianca and Nico di Angelo from across a room, he notes they're doing this. However, it doesn't seem to be a habit (neither of them are ever mentioned to do it again) and might only have been because they were arguing.

     Live Action TV  

  • This happens in the "Italian Class" sketch in Monty Python's Flying Circus. When the Italians taking the class speak on their own, they gesture while talking.
  • Look Around You has one video end with "In the next program, we will look at: Italians". Showing a man with electrodes all over his body and yes, gesticulating wildly.
  • It is part of the OTT stereotype that Captain Bertorelli does this a lot in 'Allo 'Allo!.
  • Desperate Housewives: Bree Hodge gesticulates while trying to impress some Italian clients of her catering agency.
  • The Beverly Hillbillies: Jethro was dating an Italian woman and claimed he knew Italian because he could make the gesture pictured.
  • In a Saturday Night Live sketch, January Jones as a House Wife from The '50s advises viewers that if Italians come to your party, give them enough space to talk with their hands.
  • During their trip to Italy on I Love Lucy, Lucy assures Ethel that she knows enough Italian to get by, by demonstrating the different hand gestures she's learned—including the ones for "wonderful", "who knows?", and "get me a large pizza". The latter gesture is then used by two different Italians later in the episode.


     Video Games  

  • Mario and Luigi can do this as part of their gestures whenever they "talk" in the Mario & Luigi games.

     Web Original  

  • The meme Philosoraptor once contained the question, "If an Italian is missing an arm, can we say he has speech impediment"?
  • This video is about Italian gestures as seen by the English.
  • In the Shopkins webseries, Gino Gelati, being an Italian Tour team Shopkin, accentuates his speech with hand gestures, turning his nub-like hands into simply-defined fingers to emphasize them.

     Western Animation  

  • Chef Luigi Risotto and, on a lesser grade, Fat Tony from The Simpsons.
    Legs: What are you doing? I talk with that hand!
    • When getting kicked out of Fat Tony's mob by Tony's son Michael, Homer asks "Can I still talk with my hands?" and Michael tells him he can't.
  • This trope occurs every time an Italian character appears in Family Guy.
    • It was itself directly parodied when Peter grew a mustache and thought he could speak Italian - by speaking gibberish and gesticulating.
  • Flavio the Goat does this at times.
  • Lila Rossi from Miraculous Ladybug accentuates her hamminess with some spectacular gesticulation-or, as Volpina, her flute.
  • Fugget About It posits that this came about due to everyone being too afraid to talk aloud around the Mafia.

     Real Life  

  • In Italy itself, Southern Italians (and especially Neapolitans) are the ones said to be gesticulating, unlike Central and Northern Italians. Also, some gestures vary from zone to zone.
  • In Argentina, there has been a massive cultural influence from Italian immigrants, including food and language. Gesture language included, and to this date a lot of Italian hand gestures have been adopted.
  • The late Justice Antonin Scalia (who was of Sicilian ancestry and quite proud of it) of the U.S. Supreme Court, when asked to respond to his many critics, famously cupped his hand under his chin and flicked it toward the questioner. Many news outlets reported this to mean "fuck off," but Scalia claimed the gesture is actually used in Sicilian culture to mean "I couldn't care less."