July 18, 2008

Hand gestures in Brazilian Portuguese

Brazilians use a lot of hand gesture when they communicate, so if you are learning Portuguese, those are a great thing to learn too. Here are just a few of many that are frequently used, to get you started:

Thumbs up - you will probably see this a lot in Brazil. It means beleza (nice, literally beauty) or that everything is legal (cool). Some people (usually younger people) greet like this (instead of using Tudo bem):

- Beleza? [Thumbs up]
- Beleza! [Thumbs up]

Ok Gesture: The gesture used to indicate 'ok' in the U.S. (making a circle with your thumb and your index finger) is not commonly used in Brazil, and when it is it is considered by most to be obscene! (something to do with the whole represented by the circle... ). For some people it is offensive only if you face the remaining fingers down, as in turning the ok sign upside down... but for some people even just the plain ok sign is a bad thing. Just avoid it and use the thumbs up instead.

Repeatedly snapping your fingers - that is, snap your thumb to the middle finger, as some people do when dancing or singing: People snap repeatedly (around 3 -4 times) to indicate something taking a long time.

O Marcos mora aqui nos Estados Unidos faz, ó... [snap, snap, snap] muito tempo!
Marcus has lived here in the U.S. for, look... [snap, snap, snap] a long time!

Pseudo-finger snapping - this is very similar to clicking your fingers, but you just stroke your thumb to the middle and index finger instead of snapping them: this is usually means 'expensive' (though I have seen it more rarely to mean money). For example, say a street vendor is offering you something for 10 reais, and you think it should cost 5, you can say no (head shaking for 'yes' or 'no', as well as 'no' done with the index finger is just the same as in English) and do the pseudo-finger clicking to indicate you think it is too expensive.

All fingers together - palm facing up, bring all your fingers together, repeatedly taping four fingers against the thumb: this means 'a lot' or 'full'. For example, a bus driver might make this gesture if you are trying to catch a bus, but he won't let you get on because the bus is too full... Or someone might say:

A festa ontem estava, ó... [All fingers together]: lotada!
The party yesterday was, look... [All fingers together]: full to capacity!

Tap behind your chin - palm facing down, tap right under your jaw, with the back of your hand. This means papo-furado (B.S.), indicating that something is not true.

Clapping the back of a hand against the palm of the other - both palms horizontal, facing up the whole time, clap the back of one hand on the palm of the other and slide it off as if sweaping. Repeat couple of times: This means Não tô nem aí ( 'I don't care at all' or 'I am not all all interested').

For more, you may look at this article with pictures of gestures, here is a great video on Brazilian hand gestures and another with some more examples of gestures and body language (make sure to look at the helpful comments). If you have a Brazilian teacher or a friend, get them to show you these to help you practice.


  1. Hello,

    I just came across this blog and I like it. Thanks for the help with Portuguese.

    As for the part in this post about clicking your fingers, I think that "snapping" your fingers might be a better term to use. I hope that was what you meant by clicking.

    Thanks for a really helpful blog.

  2. Oi Amodeus,

    Thank you for the visit, comment and correction. I have changed the text so that it sounds better.




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