Nationality: Italian American
Residence: United States
Date of Performance/Collection: 03/30/2016
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Italian and French
Main Piece: “When Italians want to point out cleverness, they use a gesture rather than words. They take their finger and they pull down on the bottom of their eye, which opens the eye more, and that indicates that this person is clever in the sense that they are sly. There’s another way…I’m not positive…to pull the cheek down to open the eye.”
Background: The informant would often see this gesture when people would try to speak about another person without using words. According to the informant, instead of verbally communicating, a physical gesture is used because it is universal and non-confrontational. This gesture isn’t always used as a compliment, it can be a mark of dissaproval. This gesture is done to another person, communicating this thought of cleverness about the other.
Performance Context: The informant sat across from me at a table outside.
My Thoughts: Using a physical gesture as a medium of foklore is a noteworthy method of communication. Its physical nature, rather than verbal, can be comprehended universally, as the informant noted. The opening of the eye seems to be a watchful, all-knowing way of letting the receiver know his/her slyness is recognized. Although this gesture may not mean the same things in a variation of contexts, the eye is the watcher, the giver of sight and truth. It is also interesting that this mark of cleverness is not always a compliment. Being sly versus being clever is a mark of acceptable versus unacceptable.
For further reference see: http://en.blog.hotelnights.com/italian-gesture-language/ for alternative explanation of the gesture.