If you come from any of the Americas or Europe, you’ll probably recognize this gesture: “thumbs up”. In the US it means something like “enthusiastic”. In Brazil it is a bit “less” enthusiastic but it maintains more of less the same meaning. Let’s do something different and learn about these Brazilian gestures. I am sure one or another will blow your mind.
Not that enthusiastic
Well, the gesture on the left only means “ok” or “cool” in the sense of a moderate “I like this”. Not enthusiastic though. Now, if you come from the US, you probably have another daily gesture for “ok” or “cool”. If the gesture on the right is the daily gesture for “ok” in your country, careful when you are about to use it in Brazil. This gesture makes a Brazilian think of ‘anus’ or ‘vagina’ and it implies you want sex or you are cursing someone. Well, don’t worry if you forget it and actually do it. Brazilians see this “gesture” in American movies all the time which, even though dubbed, daily transfer American culture into Brazilian homes. Another detail is that, if this gesture is ever maliciously made, the palm of your hand should be upwards and not to the front so that the “O” gesture should be onwards and the middle finger, ring finger and pink finger should be stretched to the side or slightly upwards.
Figa and snapping fingers
Well, this gesture is so common that it even has a name: figa /:FEE-gah/. It’s a gesture for good luck and it means “I wish you good luck”. If you see someone doing this gesture with his hand behind his back, it means that he or she does not mean what he or she is saying.
The gesture on the right has a movement one can’t perceive as it is a static photo. This person is snapping her index finger on her thumb and middle finger. Ouch, it hurts! But Brazilians have been doing this their entire lives so don’t worry because this apparently painful gesture means that the person who does it hurries someone about something, so “hurry, hurry!”. There are two more gestures you may find useful if you ever visit Brazil.
Overlapping and clapping hands
Another funny gesture is the one on the left. By overlapping both palms and clapping the palm of one hand with the back of the other a couple of times. If you are not Brazilian, there is no way you’ll know what it means. Well, this gesture means “I don’t care” or “I don’t mind”. You care so little you can’t even be bothered to say how you feel about it, which by the way would be done with one of the following sentences:
Não me importa.
Não estou nem aí.
Não dou a mínima.
Estou cagando e andando.
This very last one is a bit rude so avoid it or use it only with people you are familiar with. All of them mean pretty much the same but only “Não me importo” is official and formal. I hope you had a lot of fun with this lesson about Brazilian gestures. But we are down to the last one and I am afraid the gesture you see on the left side is not Brazilian at all. It must have come with the Italian immigrants, gently snapping your index, middle, ring and pink against your thumb. If you are descendent of Italians, you’ll probably guess it right but I’ve heard it means something different in Italy.In Brazil at least it means “crowded” or “too many people”. This gesture is often used by bus and taxi/cab drivers. The funny thing is that you do not necessarily have to have your fingers upwards as in the illustration. It may also be to the front or to the sides. But you cannot forget to make the fingers snap against the thumb, otherwise it means nothing.
I am Daniel dos Santos van der Scheun, founder of DAS Languages, based in the Netherlands. I lived in Brazil until I turned 30 and have been living in the Netherlands ever since what gave me an interesting platform to explore other cultures and compare my own to them. This same lesson can be found on my courseware http://www.daslanguages.com where you can register and follow classes for free.