In addition to an arsenal of colorful slang known as Lunfardo, Argentines make extensive use of non-verbal language. With so much Italian blood coursing through the veins of the Argentine people, it's no wonder they have a habit of talking with their hands. In fact, some Argentine hand gestures are similar, if not identical, to Italian ones.
When I stayed with my friend Beatrice Murch last year, I thumbed through a bilingual book from her home library called Sin Palabras: Gestiario Argentino/Speechless: A Dictionary of Argentine Gestures by photographer Guido Indij. I found the book quite entertaining, as it provides loads of insight into the vast vocabulary of gestures employed by the Argentines. It was fun to discuss the different gestures and compare them to those used in the United States. For example, American concertgoers flash the horns as they rock out to heavy metal, but the very same gesture directed at someone in Argentina insinuates that his or her spouse is a cheater.
As a complement to his book, Indij created the website Gestiarium, which seeks to "decipher humankind's gestural genome." Besides viewing hundreds of gestures from around the globe, users can collaborate by submitting their own photos and explanations of non-verbal language. You can read more about Indij and the origins of his book and website in an article by The Argentina Independent. [Update: the Gestiarium project and website have been discontinued.]
Here are some of my favorite Argentine hand gestures and their meanings:
¡Ojo! – Be careful!/Watch out!
[Pull down your lower eyelid with your index finger.]
Vení (acá) – Come here
[Extend your hand, palm down, and curl your fingers up toward your palm repeatedly.]
Tacaño – Cheapskate
[Tap your right elbow with the palm of your left hand.]
¡Ma sí, andá (a cagar)! – Get outta here!/ F*ck off!
[Throw your arm back toward your head.]
Just right/Perfect/Impeccable/The best
[With your hand forming the OK sign, make a short, quick downward motion in front of your chest.]
Do you have a favorite Argentine gesture?
[Photo credits: All images courtesy of Guido Indij/Gestiarium]