When living in Brazil there’s not only the issue of learning the language of Portuguese, there’s also the issue of learning the body language. For this article I’m going to cover some gestures you might come across that aren’t commonly used in other countries, at least in my experience, or have different meanings to those you are used to. I’ve tried to include photos as best I can, as well as descriptions of the gestures.
If someone shows you the back of their hand, with the fingers pointing up, and closes the thumb against the fingers repeatedly, this means full!”. It might be used when approaching an Estacionamento (car park) to warn you there are no spaces, or by a Brazilian friend if the night club you want to enter is packed.
Another, which is a little difficult to describe, involves rapidly twisting the hand away from your body, with two of the fingers clicking together (even harder to do for the uniniated!). Not quite the normal clicking your fingers, but produces a similar sound as the two fingers slap together. This is to signify “fast!”, so might be used in reference to a person’s driving, or the speed at which calendar events occur.
A more obvious gesture used quite frequently symbolises disinterest, or lack of knowledge on a topic. The person will hit the back of their fingers against the fingers on the other hand, and repeat with the other hand, further repeated again several times.
One gesture that means something different in Brazil from other countries is the “two finger salute” or “V-sign”. Where you face the back of hte hadn towards someone, and extend the index and middle finger. A Brazilian may well think you’re congratulating them on their driving, as here in Brazil this is a V for victory, meaning the same with the hand in the reversed position of palm out. A “single finger salute” with just the middle finger has the same connotation though as the USA and UK and no doubt other countries, so be careful with this one.
Note this is one form of the Victory sign, the hand around the other way is equivalent
OK (or not)
Another gesture that has a different meaning here is the OK sign, where you take the thumb and index finger to form an O. I won’t give the exact details of what it means, but it’s essentially the same as the V-sign in the USA or UK, hence offensive! I made the mistake of making this to my Brazilian mother-in-law when trying to tell her how good her cooking was. Thankfully she either didn’t notice or brushed it off as a typical Gringo-ism! The HSBC bank, in recent TV advertising in the UK, even made reference to this miscommunication as one of a number of cultural differences around the world.
Are there any other gestures you want to let our readers know about? That are either specific to Brazil, or have different meanings here. Feel free to send a photo also to email@example.com .
I’ve been looking at your page on gestures (very accurate) and have a few to add if you’re interested:
– delicious!: thumb, forefinger & index finger of right hand together (eg as in ‘full’), move across lips of closed mouth from left to right: eg ‘a moqueca de la e’ – (cue gesture)’ – this might be specific to the Northeast.
– that’s f*cking strong/good! in the context of a shot of pinga downed in one: eg right hand flicked downwards so that thumb and forefinger connect with a snap! usually accompanied by a grimace. appropriate for botecos vagabundos…
– f*cked! l left hand fisted, thrust upward into downward facing right palm: eg ‘a mulher achou ele de sacanagem com a vizinha – ele se fu!’ (cue gesture) – probably the most used of all!
– gone/nothing left. left hand palm facing downards, right hand palm down, back of fingers of right hand thrust up into left palm with a slight smack eg ‘ela achou o marido de sacanagem com a vizinha. deixou ele no mesmo dia. foi embora.’ (cue gesture)
– multiple of something, click fingers of left hand, as it to music: eg ‘isto nao se faz ha muito anos’ (cue clicking fingers) – my mother-in-law does this, so perhaps it’s generational
– come here. eg when gesturing to waiting staff (along with the hissed ‘psiu!’ in less salubrious establishments)
eg palm facing down (in UK it’s up), fingers together, hand opens and closes rapidly – I’ve seen this in the Northeast, but not in Rio, perhaps because it’s less feudal there.
It stikes me that with the thumbs up, perhaps because it’s so often used, the thumb is less prominent and the hand stays low, eg when jaywalking and the motorist lets you though, the unspoken ‘valeu!’
— Bill Martin