27 August 2012
I used to own this book, Beaux Gestes, by Laurence Wylie. It's a really funny illustrated guide to French gestures, and was immensely helpful to me when I first began traveling in France. I studied it the way one studies a Frommer's guide, and used what I could whenever the situation warranted. There's no comparable book I know of for Brazilian gestures, but for anyone who might be planning to visit Brazil without causing an international brouhaha, you might take a look at my own personal gesture guide:
"Thank you!" "Yes!" "Great!" (And much, much more.) This most ubiquitous of Brazilian gestures was discussed in a prior blogpost of mine published on December 22, 2011. Check it out for the full panoply of meanings.
"Soup's on!" Or, "Eating," as in, "Where's the manager?" "He's at lunch." Hold your fist in front of your mouth at lip-level and move your fingers up and down.
Moving your fists around and around in front of your eyes denotes choramingo, or weeping, wailing, blubbering. It's mostly used ironically, to make fun of someone, or to show them how much you sympathize with them — NOT.
Hitting the side of your throat repeatedly with your hand means . . . well, I have competing explanations for this one. One friend says it means that someone is deliberately lying to you. Another friend says it just means that someone is blathering, or talking nonsense.
"I've got your number!" Mimic putting a card up your sleeve and you're saying that you've got the goods on someone. You will bide your time and, at the right moment, you'll take the card out and use it against them.
"Delish!" One turn of your hand alongside your mouth after the first bite. In all these years I've seen only one Brazilian make this gesture, so I can't be sure it's in the country's pantheon. But whenever this friend makes the gesture while eating my home cooking, it's very gratifying.
"So there!" Snap your fingers three times, with a lot of verve. This is another one I've seen only one Brazilian do. Depending on the conversation, it can also mean something like "I told her!"
"Full." Show the back of your hand with the fingers pointing up, and open and close them repeatedly. This is used in any number of situations, could be a hostess at a restaurant telling you that the place is packed, or the parking attendant telling you there are no more spaces to be had in the lot. If you see a taxi driver doing this, he's signaling that he's carrying passengers. Any way you look at it, it's not good news.
"Don't know, don't care." Hold your hands in front of your body with your wrists loose and brush your fingertips across each other, back and forth, several times. It's the closest I can come here in Brazil to my favorite French expression, "Je m'en fous."
"They're like this." Want to tell someone how close two people are? Rub your index fingers together as shown in the picture.
Pull your eyelid down and, depending on the situation, you'll be saying "Watch out, be careful, keep your eyes open," or "How stupid do you think I am?"
Rubbing your hand like this against your cheek indicates that someone is a bad driver, or just did some bad driving maneuver. Check out my "Driving in Brazil" blogpost of November 7, 2011, and you'll wonder why I haven't rubbed a hole in my cheek by now!
And by the way, in case anyone was wondering, I've deliberately kept this Guide to Gestures very clean. However, I must warn Americans: do not, under any circumstances, make the "okay" sign. It's extremely obscene in Brazil. Train yourselves to use the "thumbs-up" sign instead. Okay?