Expats in Mexico may take comfort from the fact researchers estimate that just seven percent of human communication is verbal. Tone of voice, facial expressions, posture and gestures account for the rest. While mastering Spanish requires hours of study, becoming fluent in hand signals is a whole lot easier. What’s more, it may prove just as useful.
Thanks or no thanks
To thank someone for stopping their car, or to politely refuse an offer of food, you can raise your forearm and present the back of your hand. The gesture is an acknowledgement that the other person has been kind, and can mean either “thanks” or “no thanks.” Sometimes it is a quick motion, while other times it is a slow, sweeping gesture.
Holding the fingers and thumb of one hand together and pointing the palm upward indicate a great quantity. It also used to show a place is crowded. A few shakes of the arm accompany the hand, so the gesture looks similar to the Italian signal for “what the hell.”
A tap of the elbow indicates a cheapskate, perhaps someone who haggles too hard or never leaves a tip. The gesture plays on the fact that the Spanish word for “elbow” (codo) is similar to the word for “greedy” (codicioso).
If you open and close the fingers when positioned in the “a lot” or “crowded” gesture, you can taunt someone for being scared. The sign is accompanied by a downward motion of the arm, as if pulling a tissue from a box except upside down. Be warned: this hand symbol is highly vulgar and is definitely not appropriate for polite conversation.
To indicate money, or to show someone “is doing something for the money,” you can open your thumb and index finger to form a semi-circle, as if you are holding a wad of cash or a big coin. The hand signal should be turned away from the body, so the little finger is closest to the gesticulator. A few shakes of the arm are often added for emphasis.
To agree with someone when you have a mouth full of food, or to confirm you said “tequila” in a noisy bar, a couple of flexes of the index finger mean “yes.”