Say What?: Nica Gestures

One of the first lessons I learned upon arriving in Nicaragua is that Nicaraguans not only communicate in Spanish, but also with a series of gestures that are very different from the gestures we’re used to in the States.  To prevent confusion and to prepare adequately for life in Nicaragua, please see the following guide on Nica gestures.

“The Lip Point.”  The Lip Point is used during conversation to indicate something or someone nearby that you are talking about. “The Lip Point” is used instead of “The Finger Point” or “The Head Nod” in United States gesture-speak.  Examples: That lady over there (lip point) sells bread; Go (lip point) in that direction; Can you please get me that thing over there (lip point).

“The Nose Scrunch.”  It means, “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” To implement “The Nose Scrunch” effectively, scrunch up only the nose part on your face.  Then maintain silence so that the other party can explain themselves more adequately.  “The Nose Scrunch,” when implemented properly, often brings out my insecurities of speaking Spanish.  It’s usually a direct reaction to my Gringa-ness, rather than to my ability (or inability) to speak Spanish. Example: Lauren: “What time does the next bus leave?” / Woman waiting for bus: (nose scrunch) /Lauren: (slightly annoyed and less confidently) “What-time-does-the-next-bus-leave?”/ Woman waiting for bus: half hour.

“The Get Over Here.” This hand gesture means, “vení!”, or in English, “get over here!” Extend your arm and wave hand towards your body repeatedly until the other party comes closer.  This gesture should also be used to hail a cab.

“The What’s Your Problem?!” This gesture can be used playfully, amongst friends, or could also be used to start a fight when used with an enemy.  It means, “what’s your problem?” or, to a friend, “whattup?” To implement properly, extend both hands simultaneously from the center of your body while nodding your chin up with brows furrowed.

“The Wink.” When your friend is talking to a third party, but winks at you, it means “just play along, because I am lying to this chump right now.”  You should play along. Luis first taught me the wink when I was buying my mattress and he was trying to get me out of paying for insurance.  Much appreciated.

“The Hurry This Thing Up!” It’s a finger snap, in which the you touch your thumb to your middle finger, and then use your pointer finger to make a snapping noise by slamming it against your thumb and middle finger. Make sure your wrist and pointer fingers are suave, or limp. See video for explanation and demonstration:

“The Diarrhea.” To implement this gesture correctly, make a loose fist and drag it from your hip behind you. Also feel free to make a fart noise with your mouth for emphasis on your unfortunate situation.  Example: Neighbor: How are you feeling today?/ Lauren: (the diarrhea)/ Neighbor: (laughs) Didn’t I tell you not to drink soda with your Nacatamal?!

“The Eat.” To tell someone to eat, or that you are about to eat, or you have just eaten, put your hand in front of your mouth, palm facing your face, and bend and straighten your fingers repeatedly.  Example: We’re gonna go (the eat).

“The Finger Shake.” To tell someone “no,” put one finger out in front of you and shake it back in forth.  Feel free to give attitude in your face to emphasize your seriousness in NO. Example: Man on the street: Give me your phone number./ Lauren: (finger shake). 

“The Wait!!!!!” This gesture means, “wait right there for one minute I’ll be right back just DON’T GO ANYWHERE!” To carry it out effectively, put your palm up to the other party’s face and then walk out the door. My counterpart loves to do this to me before he leaves me sitting in the office wondering when he’ll come back.

“The Elbow Smack.” “The Elbow Smack” means that you’re flat broke.  Use this when someone asks you for money. To do “The Elbow Smack” effectively, put your forearm parallel to your body and use your other hand to smack your elbow repeatedly.

“The Belly Scratch.” “The Belly Scratch” is an indicator to a friend that you’re just messing with them. When you use “The Belly Scratch,” make sure to lean back and lift your shirt slightly while making long scratch marks on your stomach.  Example: Person 1: I’m gonna steal your girlfriend and take her out on a date (the belly scratch). /Person 2: ha ha ha, yeah right.

“The Finger Swirl.” This gesture means, “let’s get out of here.” Put your finger above your head, point to the sky, and swirl it around in a circle while saying “vamanos.” See video for example and explanation:

“The Full.” This gesture indicates to a potential passenger that the bus or taxi is full. To implement “The Full” correctly, first, work on a bus. Then, when the bus is about to leave and you have so many passengers that they’re hanging out the windows and packed in the aisles like sardines, look intently at the people outside of the bus that are trying to get on, touch your thumb to the rest of your fingers, and push your hand out hard from your face.  Do this once. Then leave.

Update April 20, 2015: This post has been getting a lot of traffic over the last few days- let’s aprovechar! I’d love to hear from all the Nicaragüenses and expats out there about what gestures I may have missed. Looking forward to it! Saludos, Lauren

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45 Responses to Say What?: Nica Gestures

  1. Megan says:

    Haha this is hilarious! Love it 🙂 I have seen the “full” sign, but usually when Nicas are talking about the bus they were just on or that they tried to get on but it was too (the full) haha


  2. ariel your seeeester says:

    Hahahaha I love it. Our first lesson from our Portuguese teacher in Brazil was on body language. The finger wag is definitely a favorite of mine: “no, no, no” I still use it on the daily. The “Thumbs Up” is not nearly as popular in the states as it is in Brazil…tragic.

    I love all of this pictures and vids. YOUR HAIR IS SO LONG!! This just reminded me that I should make a haircut appointment soon. Gonna go do that.. YAY love you!


  3. Mom says:

    Lauren, this is the funniest blog so far. I just laugh out loud each time I read it. So glad you are feeling better! Love, Mom

    Liked by 1 person

  4. FredLeland says:

    Lauren i am a friend of you fathers and i teach body language. Very nice job you have done here explaining and demonstrating the cultural difference in non-verbal gestures. I shared your post with my readers as well at this link because i feel it will be helpful in their continued learning. Best of luck to you in all your endeavors and dreams.


  5. dunya says:

    Girls, this is great, you are missing one more geste, which they use to indicate “payment” or “paying”. That’s very comon one.


    • Maria D Miranda says:

      Yes. You rub repeatedly your index and middle finger with you thumb. It means, show me the money, pay me now! Also the elbow sign is more often used to mean “you are cheap” or as we say it in good Nicaraguan: “vos sos pinche”…

      Liked by 2 people

  6. This is very interesting, but you should get the Nicaraguan slang diccionario, in order to function properly,


  7. Maritza says:

    This was awesome for me, being fully Nica but growing up in the states, I honestly didn’t know it was a Nica thing! I laughed so hard, thanks! By the way the gesture for the bus being full, or club being full is the gesture referring to ” esta hasta el culo”. As gross as it sounds the tightening of all your fingertips is to show how tight it is, uh Hmmmm, like a butthole!😁 I love seeing how much you embrace my culture! 😂


  8. Ale says:

    This is good and I want to add some other info, actually “The Nose Scrunch” has others uses.
    For example: if you do it twice, means: What?; if you do it and you move your head up means: What’s up?; if you do the “not” gesture with your head and in the same time scrunch your nose, is like you don’t like it very much or is something is very disapproved!

    And the “The Hurry This Thing Up!” also means: ayy ya yayyy you are in troubles!!! (normally with your mom) hahaha…



  9. Daniel A. says:

    A Nica here… Got to your blog from a friend who posted it on FB…. this is great! Hilarious and very accurate.
    Just one potential correction… as far as I get our nica body language, the elbow smack is to describe someone being cheap (not wanting to spend money)… so for example, you could be at a restaurant and the bill arrives where everyone must pay their share, and you have this person who is unwilling to either pay for their share, or expecting someone to pay their share, or argues so they do not pay their full share… Then you do the elbow smack and tell them they’re “codo” or cheap.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Rob says:

    Great one… Speaking from a Gringo who goes to Nic for business!!. Another favorite…When at restaurant and you don’t speak much Spanish.. Use flat hand with the other act like you are writing..speak “La cuenta”..when you learn enough to ask for the bill..


  11. Jose Salasblanca says:

    Haha just found this article on Facebook. I am a nica and I didn’t know the belly scratch.


  12. Nica says:

    Hi lauren

    Really appreciate the time you dedicated to share what us nicas do on a daily basis. As for the elbow smack it’s meaning is different it means that someone is stingy, it’s verbal expression is “codo” or elbow.
    i. e : el es codo (he is stingy)

    Hope you enjoyed your stay


  13. Pingback: Say What?: Nica Gestures | Espacio Cultura y Arte.

  14. ademejia says:

    Hahaha Hilarious! There’s also the “Vos Sos De Reales”, in which you have to shape your hand as if you’re holding a lot of money and shake it. Example: Ooh, look at her, she’s going to (fancy restaurant) *insert Vos Sos De Reales here*


  15. margarita lopez says:

    Love it. Lauren you just really pay attention jajajaj. THANKS!!!


  16. ivettegaitan2912 says:

    Hey I am from Nicaragua and I really liked it, I laughed a lot but I don’t know that ”The diarrhea”


  17. Dora Witt says:

    Good job girls. I’m originally from Nicaragua and I can tell you’re definitely learning how to be a good nica 😉


  18. magscreation says:

    Don’t forget to knock on wood when you don’t want something someone said, to happen. Knock three times, just to make sure of course.


  19. Franklin says:

    hahaha tris is awesome, i didn’t know all those things I’ve done since ever were just Nicaraguan gestures. But now that I think of it, that’s true! Hahahahaha loved it.


  20. Franklin says:

    Also, there’s a gesture similar to “the full” but you open and close your fingers repeatedly meaning that the person is shitting his pants and won’t do something ’cause he/she is too scared to do so. “Si te hace asiiiiii (insert “cuchi cuchi”)” meaning: “u’re a big chicken!”


  21. Bladimir Elvir says:

    “To be affraid”, like in the last Foto, …put the fingers together and moving them rapidly to outside and inside many times. Regards.


  22. Reblogged this on ¿Quién soy yo? and commented:
    Si no hablas inglés, pero eres nica, comprenderás viendo las imágenes. Muy bueno.
    O sea, tuani.


  23. Adriano says:

    Hi Lauren!

    You are missing the symbol “to pay” which is similar to peel you point finger with another like one is a knife (right hand) and the other is a carrot (Left hand).

    Cheers from Spain!


  24. Mario says:

    The elbow scratch do not mean that, it mean @” a person that is hard to give money


  25. Mariko says:

    Loved this! I love learning body language from other cultures. Additional ones I learned from living in Nicaragua:

    To drink alcohol, make a light fist but leave your thumb sticking out. Tip it up toward your mouth a few times like you are taking a sip from a bottle.

    Also, learned hard way that to say someone is short, do NOT put your hand out flat and parallel to the ground. That refers to an animal. The height of a person would be indicated by putting your hand up like you are taking an oath but tuck the first fold the tops of your fingers down against your hand. Then you can indicate the height of a person by raising or lowering your upright flattened hand.

    Also, the diarrhea one, I have seen without putting the fist by your butt but just in front of you and making the up and down movement.


  26. lisanka says:

    This is very funny. You seem to get our cultural manners. Although the only thing I didn’t like was that is “Nacatamal” not nacatamale.


  27. Ivette says:

    Lol!! This describes us so well, I love it. I have never noticed our body language until now. To us is so normal, I guess we don’t see it until a foreign person mention it.


  28. This is perfect. Nothing to add. Very funny and certainly useful for trans-cultural learning!


  29. yaudi says:

    So true hahaha 😂😂


  30. Julienne says:

    Love this!!!! You did a great job ^.^ My personal favorite is the lip-point, and after moving back and forth between Nicaragua & the Netherlands for almost ten years, it’s become second nature to me 😛 In fact, I’ve noticed I’ve appropriated most of these in my life here too!!
    The only ones I’m missing are:
    – La guatuza : right hand in loose fist, put thumb between index and middle finger. Flash angrily to someone instead of the middle finger flip, or when someone’s really bullshitting you (as in “yeah, right!”). Can be combined with frowning the under lip up against the top one, as if almost to start insulting. Funny: a similar gesture is also used (when moving the index and middle finger slightly up and down) to indicate when people are having sex… but that’s usually accompanied by eyebrows eagerly moving up&down too 😉
    – The ‘later’ or ‘after this’: point the index finger horizontally parallel to your body and slightly in front of you, and then make little circles (like rolling over), to indicate to someone you’ll get onto something later or after the thing you’re doing now.
    – The ‘money money’ : point your hand upwards and rub index&middle fingers against your thumb. Indicates something is pricy, expensive, as a reminder you need money for something, question if you have money on you, or to ‘pay up’ (when the gesture turns into an open hand on part of the vendor).
    – The ‘drunk’ : stick your thumb up (kind of like when you gesture for a ride in the States), but hold it up to your face and motion the wrist back and forth like you’re drinking. Used as a question (either discretely or in a loud place) whether you would like a drink, or to indicate someone got real tipsy the other night or hasn’t stopped drinking yet 😉 “Where’s Miguel?” “At home/bar/etc. [make gesture]” “Ahhh, hahaha!” (or “Oh shit…”).


  31. That is a very complete guide! I’m Nica and I approve this post 100 %


  32. leo says:

    Elbow smack: Means pinche. Pinche is cheap. Ej: Dont be so cheap, buy me a decent meal!!!


  33. Otoniel Alguera Hogdson says:

    Outstanding compilation!!!! You can explain this better than me, congrats!!!


  34. Noel says:

    jajajajaja you nailed it!!!! buenisima! gracias por compartir nuestra cultura Nica! sos tuanis!


  35. Danilo Hernandez says:

    The belly scratch is used to mock someone else, it can be used only the gesture, but most of the time is used together the expression: “Chinchinga la burra chinga!”
    Good job 🙂


  36. Carla says:

    I find it disrespectful. Everything in this post is wrong . It’s not educational , your disrespecting Nicaraguans . You want opinions I’ll gladly post this on my fb so my fellow Nicaraguans can give you their opinions . DISRESPECTFUL


    • Lauren says:

      Hi Carla, I’m sorry you found this post disrespectful. I wrote it about 7 years ago when I was living in Nicaragua. Upon revisiting some of this, I can see how an explanation of Nicaraguan hand gestures, coming from a white girl from Massachusetts, can be offensive. Living in Nicaragua was my first experience being fully immersed in another language and culture. I loved the fact that in addition to the seemingly impossible task of learning Spanish, I also had to adapt how I communicated with my body, which was something that I had never thought about before living in Nicaragua.

      I loved my time in Nicaragua, have been back several times since, and will continue to go back. I think I can also say that I wrote this at a time when I was fully “in it.” I had been there almost one year and I felt that I was finally figuring out how to communicate. At the same time, I think I was also grappling with some culture clashes. I lived in a small town, which was overall a positive experience, but there were aspects of this small-town living that wore on me at times.

      I am going to keep this post up because I think we all take our gestures for granted. Our gestures are automatic and part of us, so it’s interesting and fun to learn about body language in other countries. If there’s something in particular that you find offensive, please e-mail me at, and I’ll be happy to take a look at it and see how I can address your concerns. Best, Lauren


  37. Luis Manuel Moreno says:

    You did a fantastic job.


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