“A gesture is worth more than thousand words”

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colombian gestures

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Long time before words were occupying the privileged place that they occupy today, nonverbal communication (gestures, postures, grimaces, etc.,) were already used by both humans (and animals) to express desires, feelings or needs.

According to Albert Mehrabian, Emeritus Professor at the California University, in a face to face conversation more than 65% is nonverbal communication. Then, it could be that with gestures we say much more than the words we use?

Sign language not only allows us to recognize but also differentiates us from other sociocultural groups. It also allows us to replace lots of words we use every day, reinforcing the information we want to transmit or hide. Maybe we have never thought about how else we could order a coffee, if it was not using the forefinger and thumb in a “C” form, or how we could order the check if it was not using one hand to sign and the other as a paper. Difficult, isn’t it?

Well, all these are signs we regularly use in an automatically, involuntary or unconscious way and much of these are used in the same way in different countries and cultures.

But, it is not always like this. While we share codes and cultural traditions, which have previously been conventionalized as language or music, there are not many similarities when it comes to our gestures.

Depending on the geographical area where we are or the nationality of the person we want to interact with, our body and sign language could cause us some problems, because this particular form of communication changes its meaning depending on where and how we use it. Therefore it is not enough to have verbal fluency (vocabulary and grammar) also cultural fluency as well.

A good example would be when Pedro (Colombian) and Gonzalo (Argentina) met for the first time. Although they both speak Spanish and are Latino, when they met Gonzalo had a big surprise when he saw Pedro lent back and took a step back when he tried to kiss him on the cheek to greet him. Gonzalo thought this was a bit “rude”. Gonzalo did not know that in Colombian culture, especially men, do not kiss to introduce themselves but instead shake hands and a smile, the kiss could be a bit effeminate.
So if you want to visit Colombia, there are some gestures that you should use. A gesture which is widely used is to indicate “there”. This requires placing the head and eyes toward the object or person we want to point out, we use the lips. This is not just to kiss but to emphasize the action or position of the object in question. This is very common in Colombia.

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Another popular gesture is “tacaño“. When a Colombian wants to show that aperson is stingy, they take their elbow and with the opposite hand tap the elbow repeatedly, but very subtly, with a look of disappointment on his face.




If a Colombian wants to say a place is busy or “está tetiao” they join together all their fingers and move the hand repeatedly up and down, very slightly. All this of course with an expression of surprise on their face.



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Finally and possibly the most used, we have the famous “paila“. This is a sign that we use to
indicate that something is wrong or that something is not right. For this we tilt our head slightly to the left, so that the neck is free and visible. Bring one hand to the neck and hit the jugular slightly, with 2 or 4 fingers. Not forgetting, of course, an expression of concern or disappointment.



These are just some of the gestures or signals that we use daily in Colombia, but they are an excellent example of how (without words) we communicate more than we think we do. Best of all, it is an excellent opportunity to understand how important it is to know the cultural norms of the society in which we are or belong.


If you want to get more information, check this link.




Photos by: mantaraya travel


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