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The Famous Gestures and Body Language of Argentina


By | April 21, 2011 | 9 comments

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The World Beyond Words

As any person who has ever tried to communicate will know, language consists of much more than words. When trying to get a point across, humans are known to make use of not only sounds, but a variety of facial expressions, and exaggerated mouth movements. In times of desperation, even the wall flowers among us can be seen to perform the most elaborate of actions; waving arms, emphatically shaking heads, imaginary guns, or the famous Bridget Jones “preggie bellie”.

At some point or another, most of us will experience an unavoidable moment where words just won’t cut it. And no one knows this better it seems, than Argentinians, who have a variety of vocabulary of actions, ranging in intensity from the simple “I dunno” gesture, to the rather more intense “from here” gesture (not as innocent as it sounds, I assure you).

At this point I will provide a brief tutorial on Argentinian gestures, because, if you have made the mistake of assuming you can survive here with nada Español, you will appreciate the rare moments when you have an inkling of what’s going on. However, it is important to note that gestures, like colloquialisms, have evolved outside the realms of the Oxford scholars and thus the meanings are rarely 100% pin-downable. Thus I can only offer you the most common interpretations of the most common gestures, which I have come across in my research. I hope they are of some help during your travels here.

Right, from least offensive to utterly gutter:

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1) “No se”
bottom lip stuck out in the fashion of a sulking toddler. Finger tips positioned under chin (palm facing your neck). Now move hand as if flicking something off your chin. Dangerously similar to the Italian gesture of “get bent”.

This gesture is made, when your taxi driver doesn’t know the address you are asking for: it is an alternative to saying “I don’t know”, occasionally it is also used to indicate apathy: Don’t know, don’t care.

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2) “QUE!”
Made by putting all your finger tips together, with the “point” facing skywards. The key step is then to move your hand up and down from the WRIST. Can be made using one or both hands.

Used to express an exclamation or surprise and or confusion. For example, if one suddenly discovers a hefty assignment due for 9am tomorrow morning (and it is now 10pm the evening before), one might respond with “Que!” and a lot of wrist wiggling. You may, like me, use it when you find out that the 9th boleterio you ask has run out of monederos (long life subway/bus ticket).

Alternatively if exaggerated and used with both hands (depicted above) it can also be used as a substitute for the phrase “What the f#@%!” or “Que te pasa?” (What’s your problem?!).

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3) Where your balls?
Similar to “Que!” although exchange the limp wrist for squeezing motion, in which you bring your fingers together then open and together again (the idea is to create a visual metaphor of pinching but finding nothing). The gesture indicates fear, and can be used to describe your own fear or nerves, as well as to tease someone about being a “chicken”. For example, a guy might make this sign to his friend who appears to backing out of a dare. “Where your balls, man?”

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Made by pointing to one’s eye or pulling the bottom eyelid down with your index finger, in extreme instances, exposing the pink of your eyelid. It means “watch out”, and may be used by locals to warn an unassuming, but conspicuous tourist that this place is dodgy and one needs to be careful. Alternatively, it may be used by parents when addressing disobedient kids who have a “chas-chas” (spanking or “hiding” as they say in South Africa) coming their way.

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Position: Able to be used between friends in a “lets get outta here” (for whatever reason) sense, or for example, by a bouncer who wants a drunk arse out of his club. The action requires a straight forearm, at 90• to your torso, and a flat palm, at 90• to the arm, and parallel to your stomach. The elbow should remain at your side and you should move the flat palm back and forth, parallel to your body. (This gesture may well be accompanied by a slight head tilt in the same direction as the hand).

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6) “This is Legit/Good”
Again, hold your hand parallel to your torso, but make a loop with your thumb and index finger, then whip the limp wrist, and shake your hand subtly up and down, but BE CAREFUL, if your hand is too low and/or at an angle to your body, it may be mistaken for the “masturbating” gesture, which would be a tad awkward given that the two primary interpretations of this gesture are A) when food is really good or “buenisimo”, and B) when you are trying to indicate that a person is “legit”, e.g. “This is my friend, X. She is an excellent guitarist (insert gesture here)”.

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Made by bending one arm at the elbow (so that your palm is facing your body), while tapping your elbow simultaneously with the other hand, means “stingy”, and refers to somebody unwilling to spend money or share. You may see this gesture being made by market vendors in reference to well dressed customers or wealthy tourists who attempt to haggle a price below that of asking (or those who try to haggle over a couple of cents) and then abandon the deal because it’s just not “cheap enough”.

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8)”Que haces vieja!?”
Make a fist, extend your index finger and thumb and point inward towards your throat or chest. Make a upward and downward motion. This is mainly used amongst “Rolingas” or Rolling Stones fans and means “What’s up bitch!?”. This can be taken as both a friendly greeting or aggressive gesture depending on the scenario.

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9) “De Aca”
This one is RUDE, and Argentinos are more conservative than you might expect, so do NOT whip this one out unless you really mean it! Tuck your elbow into your side, and put your hand in a fist. Take your other arm and put in the crook of your elbow, ie it should be across your front. The punch line, per say, is the vertical movement of the arm, as you move it up and down from the elbow. This gesture is used, for example, when you are handed a hefty and undeserved parking fine. You may respond to the traffic cop (if you are particularly ballsy), with the “De aca” gesture. It is similar to saying “Sure I’ll pay it buddy. I’ll pay it from here!.” Where exactly “here” is, is left to the individuals’ imagination.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief summary of some of the gestures commonly found here in Buenos Aires, Argentina!

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  1. Jorchet

    21/04/2011 - 12:41 pm

    Loved it!!! You forgot to add the lip-bite that comes with the phrase “Que hambre que tenés!” And can also iclude tilting your chin up while biting your lip, and raising your eyebrows; the phrase is often used when the other person is having airs, or bragging, or thinking they are really smart; can also be used when you are hinting the other person is wrong.

  2. Mary

    21/04/2011 - 12:51 pm

    Hah, great job. Word is that the #1 gesture “no se” is done with 2 hands in certain “exclusive” barrios.

  3. Elaine

    21/04/2011 - 2:43 pm

    Oh boy, this is good…Makes me really miss Buenos Aires!

  4. Paul Strobl

    21/04/2011 - 7:49 pm

    Awesome piece! Remember for number 7, because of the gesture, you can say that someone is “medio codito” 🙂

    Number 8 was actually in a series of commercials for Halls years ago hehehe

  5. Dee

    24/04/2011 - 7:33 am

    This is fab, I was telling my boyfriend about a couple of these last year – watch out for the “ojo” though, once in a night-club in San Miguel, a male friend was getting a bit too cheeky so I gave him the “ojo” but instead of getting warned off he got very pleased with himself! Apparently, I found out to my embarrasment, in that situation it has more of a “watch out, I’m watching you, ‘cos I think your hot” slant to it jajaja! We live and learn lol!

  6. Catherine Sempill

    03/05/2011 - 8:03 pm

    I discovered this one post publishing ¨hambre¨ ‘hungry. MAke this gesture by biting your bottom lip, and possibly, jutting your bottom jaw out for emphasis. It´s used when you think someone is a hottie…Im hungry for your body. Do not use this when you crave a good bowl of pasta,unless of course you want his/her body, naked on a side plate.

  7. Andrea

    13/12/2011 - 5:53 pm

    * 9: the meaning is “de acá” instead of “de aqua” (aqua is not a spanish word). Very funny, I almost cry trying to avoid the lughing (I am working right now). Excelent!

    1. webmaster

      13/12/2011 - 6:26 pm

      Thanks Andrea! Fixing now…

  8. Patrick

    26/06/2012 - 5:17 am

    *9 is VERY rude, and quite common in all latin countries (bras d´honneur in French). Actually the gesture is slightly different than described: You cross one arm across your front and grab the crook of the other elbow, with this arm extended, not tucked into your side. As you do that, you bend the extended arm in a swift and abrupt motion. It means “shove something this size up yours” and no, you don’t make that gesture to a policeman if you don’t want trouble!