After living in Nicaragua for 2 ½ years, I’ve gotten very familiar with some of the common Nicaraguan gestures. I even find myself involuntarily using some of them. What I once thought was a strange tic, I now understand to be Nicaraguan body language.
The Lip Point
The first gesture that is abundantly clear, even to the casual traveler is the lip point. Like a lot of cultures, Nicaraguans feel that pointing with your finger is rude and what could be less rude than pointing with your lips? To execute this gesture, all you need to do is make a lip puckering kissy face while nodding your head in the direction you would like the other person to turn their attention towards. It was weird at first when I experienced my house cleaner making a kissy face at me, but soon I found myself using it. The lip point is very convenient when you have your hands full but need to point at something. A side lip point can be used to point at someone acting crazy. A way of saying, “Geez, look at that guy.”
The Hand Wave
You also don’t have to be in the country long before seeing the palm down hand wave. This gesture is the “come here” of Nicaragua. As a Gringo I adapted this gesture quickly for hollering taxis and it slowly expanded to how I call my kids over. Now it is my body’s preferred way of summoning people to me.
The Windshield Wiper Finger
This is a very useful when you want a street vendor to move along. Say, “No gracias” one hundred times and they will remain lurking in front of you, but one wordless windshield wiper pointer finger and they nod off almost instantly. I have no idea why this is the case, except that when using this gesture it feels very shaming.
The Nose Scrunch
Not a very obvious gesture, the nose scrunch looks more like a snarl tic or an attempt to snort back boogers. Nicaraguans use it as a silent, “What?” Once I realized that this was body language, it was a very useful way to see if a person understood me. With my I’m-still-learning-Spanish, I get the nose scrunch quite often.
The Finger Slap
I only recently caught onto this gesture. You put your thumb and middle finger together, letting your index finger dangle, then flick your wrist, making your index finger wack against your middle finger. It’s a way of emphasizing either something you said or something they are saying. Like, “The boxing match was (so) *finger slap* good!” or “Yes! (right on) *finger slap*!” Now that I know what this gesture means, it’s really fun to witness. Usually the Nicaraguan is very excited about what they are saying with a lot of emotion.
The Finger Slide
When you see a Nicaraguan slide their right finger down there left index finger a few times in a row, you better get out your wallet because they are telling you it is time to pay. They also use it when telling stories about payment time.
The Cheek Kiss
When greeting friends and family members it is expected to give a small hug and kiss next to their right cheek. I never do this with the people we employ, but frequently with my friends. The Gringos seemed to have adopted this custom. Maybe its because of the diversity of the countries we hale from and its a good middle ground between the Netherlands three kisses, the French two kiss, the North American no kiss.
Not immediately obvious, Nicaraguans will say “Adios” if you see someone you know, but aren’t stopping to talk. It wasn’t until my Spanish teacher told me, that started noticing it. I thought that when I said, “Hola!” they were just saying, “Adios” back since we were only passing by each other. This has been a hard custom for me to adopt since my automatic response is to say “Hi!” to people. I did get good laugh when a Nicaraguan was trying to hit on me as I walked by and said, “Goodbye.” Guess he has the same problem as I do.
Knowing the body language and gestures of my adoptive country has helped make the language richer for me. I can understand the subtleties of their meaning. Its like understanding an inside joke, and I’m no longer on the butt end.