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Body Language: “A buen entendedor, pocas palabras”

Kinesthetics is the study of body language and what it means. For example, body language can indicate moods and state of mind. In this brief article, I’m going to explain the most common gestures in Colombia and the meaning of each one to avoid confusion or misunderstanding.

Let’s start with the differences or gestures that apparently don’t mean anything to Non-Colombians:

Bull’s horns:If you want to express that a significant other has cheated on you, put your hands on your forehead and stretch your middle fingers as if you have horns or you were a bull.

Stingy person:This is the most common way to express that someone is stingy. It is usually used for talking about someone, kidding with a really close friend, or as an insult during an argument. For example:

Situation 1: Talking about someone
A: Did you hear that Mario refused to buy a new T-shirt?
B: Yes, I did. He has a horrible old one.
A: He doesn’t spend money just because he wants to save money.
B: But clothes were 50% off at the mall… I don’t get him!
A: Neither do I. Anyway, he’s the most stingy man that I have ever met. (touch or pat your elbow while you are talking)

Situation 2: Close friends
C: It costs $1.00? It’s too expensive!
D: You’re so stingy, man. (touch or pat your elbow)

Paila:This gesture has many meanings according to the situation. It could mean that something is wrong, that you are in a real mess, that you can’t do something important, that something isn’t working, etc.

For example:

Situation 1: Something is wrong
A: Did you pass the exam?
B: I did badly. (or just say “paila” and put your hand horizontally as if you were cutting your neck)

Situation 2: You are in a real mess
C: What time did you arrive home?
D: At 1:00 am.
C: Really! What did your mother say?
D:  She was really pissed. (make the “paila” gesture)

“I have a puppy, kitten, animal, etc.” versus “I have a little sister”:In Colombia, there are two different ways to refer to animals or people. For example, if you are saying that you have a little puppy and you want to place emphasis on its height, you have to put your hand horizontally with the palm facing down. If you are talking about a person, in this case “a little sister,” your hand must be placed vertically. Sometimes, if you are talking about a person and you put your hand horizontally, people are going to think it’s rude because “you’re referring to them as if they were animals.”

Thieves:If you want to discreetly let someone know that something was stolen from you, you move your hand up and down like a claw on your cheek.

The similar gestures are:

Zipper:The simulation of closing a zipper means “keep a secret.” Sometime,s children close the zipper, close a padlock, and drop the key to make a promise to their friends.

Flirting and kidding:Winking doesn’t have just a romantic meaning (flirting). It also means that you are kidding.

There are many gestures used around the word, but most of them differ in meaning depending on the situation, nationality, culture, and sometimes religion. On the other hand, globalization and the media are linking the world, and the easy and quick exchange of information on the internet makes human beings start to learn and share many expressions or gestures, as in the case of the middle finger.

The point is that human communication is 93 percent nonverbal and 7 percent verbal, so our posture, tone of voice, facial expressions, and movements say more than words. That’s why “a buen entendedor, pocas palabras” (“a word to the wise is enough”).