When I was in fourth grade, my teacher, observing how I talk with my hands, told me to sit on my hands and speak. As I started to stumble over my words, partially because I was embarrassed that I was called out in this way, my teacher laughed and said, “This is how you make an Italian stop talking.”
Fast forward to my college years, and I experienced a similar incident. When learning about the history of the formation of Italy, my professor said, “Want to hear a joke? Do you know how to make Italians shut up? Tie their hands.”
I do not remember when I started talking with my hands, but I know that it has always been natural to me. I talk with my hands, my father talks with his hands, and my family members who are of Italian descent talk with their hands.
So, why do Italians talk with their hands? Well, there is actually quite a bit of scholarly research about that very question. Instead of making jokes, perhaps you should read up on the history of hand gestures.
There are many different theories as to why Italians talk with their hands and why it is passed down from generation to generation. One theory is that Italians used hand gestures as a way to stand out and get attention in the crowded streets. Another theory is that Italians used hand gestures to communicate without foreign occupiers understanding what they were saying. Both of these theories are explained in an article written by Rachel Donadio.
Whatever the reason may be, hand gestures are an integral part in communication. They help emphasize feelings and expressions that words cannot fully describe. There are also certain hand gestures that Italians use for certain words, like when speaking about something good or bad. While others may see a bunch of meaningless hand gestures, there is actually an entire language unfolding right before your eyes.
But here’s the thing: talking with your hands is good regardless of whether or not you are of Italian descent. Let's face it: everyone talks with their hands, at least a little bit. Instead of viewing hand gestures as some kind of joke, you should actually pay attention to the benefits of talking with your hands. If you talk with your hands, there is a higher chance that people will actually listen to you. Talking with your hands also increases your ability to remember things. People who talk with their hands are also seen as more trustworthy and charismatic. Think about that for a second. If someone stood completely still while talking to you, what would you think? Would you think that they were being rigid and cold? Maybe so. If someone spoke to you while using hand gestures, you may be more inclined to believe that the speaker is more personable and animated. Additionally, you might believe that the speaker cared about what he/she was saying.
The next time you see someone talk with their hands, don’t make a joke about it. Instead, think about the cultural significance for Italians and the studies that prove that talking with your hands is actually a good thing.