Mannerisms and habits change all over the world, just as the weather and the food does. These are things which get passed on from one generation to another and can be fascinating to look out for once you know a few of them.
It is said that Naples is the home of gesticulating, but you will probably notice it if you speak to an Italian from any part of the country. An Italian can easily display a whole range of different moods and opinions just using their hands. For example, opening your arms in front of you and shrugging your shoulder means “what?”, and putting your hand together as though praying means that you can’t believe what you are being told. Sitting in a café in any part of the country and people watching is a wonderful and educational experience, as well as a bit scary at times when they get worked up. If you aren’t planning a trip there anytime soon then just put an Italian football game on the telly and you will see a lot of the gestures being used almost constantly. An interesting aspect of the Italian gestures is that research has shown that many of them have been in common use for centuries. The migration of Italians to different parts of the world has also helped make their gestures popular in other countries too. Look at the people talking in Buenos Aires, for example, and you are likely to see some of the same gestures you would see in Italy.
One of the first times I ever spoke to an Indian I was trying to sell her medical insurance (this was a particularly exciting phase of my life, as you can tell). I got downhearted right away because she started shaking her head almost before I started speaking. I had been involved in insurance long enough to be used to rejections but to receive one before I had even given a price was a novelty. I ploughed on regardless but with little enthusiasm and she just kept on shaking her head. I was amazed when she said that she would take a policy after I had made my customary mess of the quote. It was only later that I found out that head shaking or head wobbling is a common mannerism amongst Indians when they are listening to someone speaking. It certainly doesn’t mean “no” in the way I had initially thought.
Thankfully I left the insurance job not too much later. After a while I ended up working in a bank in Spain with mainly British customers. The Brits would wander into the bank with their string vests on and start joking around with me. However, I also had some German customers. They would shake my hand firmly and stare at me rather intensely while making formal introductions, even if they only wanted to ask what time the office closed. These formalities while speaking are a world away from the wild Italian gesticulations and the Indian head wobbling but it goes to show the richness and variety of mannerisms which exist on the planet.