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; That guy (lip point) is crazy.
“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, as if you smell something rotten. Then maintain silence so that the other party can explain themselves more adequately. “The Nose Scrunch,” when implemented properly by a Nica, 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?” / Nica: (nose scrunch) /Lauren: (slightly annoyed and less confidently) “What-time-does-the-next-bus-leave?”/ Nica: 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. Caution: don’t do this to drunk people that you don’t know.
“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.” Diarrhea is so common here, that it has its very own hand gesture. 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: Nica: How are you feeling today?/ Lauren: (the diarrhea)/ Nica: (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: Child: Give me a peso./ Lauren: (finger shake); Creepy man: Give me your phone number./ Lauren: (finger shake + facial attitude).
“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