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  • Body Gestures: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
    Italian Memories

    by Cookie Curci

    The written word is a powerful form of communication, and when put to use it has the capability to connect generations, enhance history, and store and create vital feelings. But, before there was the written word body gestures were used as a means of communications.

    In the roman times, a simple thumbs up or thumbs down could decide the fate of a gladiator in the amphitheater. We all know the common gesture for anger is a clinched fist, accusation a pointed finger, and when we are upset the derogatory use of the middle finger is employed. These natural, expressive gestures are commonly known as "body language."

    When expressing their on screen persona, method actors, Marlon Brando and James Dean, made good use of their body language to replace written dialog. It is said Brando and Dean conveyed more drama with a gesture than most actors could do in a page of dialog.

    The same can be said of the animated Europeans who use their eyes, hands and body to convey a mood, tell a story or express temperament. As an Italian American, I can remember my Italian grandmother, who could say more with one gesture, one knowing glance or caressing touch, than I can say in a thousand words.

    If you've ever been to Italy or watched a Fellini film. Then you've seen people who just naturally employ exaggerated and familiar gestures to express themselves. For decades, Italian film directors have had their actors use gestures to convey strong emotions, tender love and deep sorrow. This doesn't come as a surprise to fans of the late actress Anna Magnani who used her natural body movements to enhance her roll in "The Rose Tattoo", for which she won the 1955 academy award for best actress.

    Like most of Italy's animated actresses Magnani surpasses the scripted dialog by using her natural body gestures and movements- holding nothing back. She knew, what all great actresses have known for years, that what an actor or actress says is not nearly as important as how they say it.

    Film directors discovered what the ancient wise men have always known, that there is no word big enough to encompass the power in a human beings expression. How people relate to one another varies with customs and countries, but always the body gesture is involved. In America when a man sees a pretty girl they raise their eyebrows. Italian men press their finger into their cheek and twist it back and forth. In Greece the men stroke their cheek, Frenchmen kiss their fingertips. And Arabs grasp their beards.

    In America we consider the "thumbs up" gestures as a sign of success, in Australia it is considered a "rude gesture". And yet, if you're a female visiting Australia, you may be surprised to see men "wink" at you, in Australia it's merely a friendly overture.

    In Italy, a flick of the chin means "buzz off" or " to heck with you". It is equal to America's middle finger gesture. Anyone who has accidentally cut off another driver knows this overt gesture only too well.

    We've all heard a co-worker use the expression "don't get in my face". What they are really saying is "don't get in my space". It is said, in the business world, whoever controls the space, controls the situation. Psychiatrists, psychologists and others who have studied human communication from a scientific point of view tell us that we have exactly 10 seconds to make a good first impression when meeting someone.

    Sitting with legs crossed at the ankle demonstrates a respect for the traditional rules of etiquette. In the business world, a man or woman stroking their chin, indicates indecisiveness. Pinching the bridge of your nose signifies negative evaluation. Rubbing hour hands is a sign of anticipation while resting your check in your palm casts an image of thoughtfulness and evaluation. Cross your arms on your chest and you instantly communicate defensiveness.

    Using our hands to express us is a great communicator, but using the wrong hand gesture can also be embarrassing. After telling the press he was an expert in hand gestures, President George Bush senior, gave the "V-for Victory" sign as he drove in his limousine past demonstrators in Canberra, Australia's capital in January 1992. In Australia, holding up two fingers to from a "v" has the same vulgar meaning as the middle-finger gesture in the United States. The Aussie demonstrators were enraged, and they signaled in the same manner back at the U.S. President. President bush later had to apologize for his faux pas.


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