greek gestures and facial expressions

6 Greek Gestures and Facial expressions and their meaning!

Hand gestures and facial expressions are integral to languages and cultures all over the world and the Greek language is no exception. You can communicate an awful lot of information without uttering a single word. Some gestures are so specific to particular languages that you can sometimes guess which language people are speaking just by watching their gestures.

Now that I live in Greece (I am from Ireland), I’ve gotten used to seeing quite a few gestures. I don’t yet like to use some of them myself, especially the ones that are very specific to Greece. I’m a bit afraid of doing it wrong and as a result of causing insult or confusion. Here are 6 Greek Gestures and Facial expressions and their meaning to stop the confusion if find you ever find yourself in my position:

1. What does 5 fingers mean in Greece? (Moutza)

The worst gesture you can make in Greece is the ‘moutza’ which is holding up your hand like a ‘stop’ sign and showing the full open palm of your hand with your fingers spread out. It’s the equivalent of giving two fingers in Ireland or the UK or one finger in the United States. I would never use this one and luckily no one has ever done that to me either! Because I know how rude this gesture is, I find myself trying to avoid waving at people as a greeting, as we do in Ireland, because it means showing the palm of the hand and I’d be afraid I might insult someone unintentionally.

2. Why do Greeks Cross themselves?

One gesture which is the same in Greece as it is in Ireland is crossing yourself. And it’s done for the same reason, as protection against something terrible. The only difference is that the Orthodox sign of the cross is slightly different to the Catholic one, in that the cross is from right to left for Orthodox and from left to right for Catholic. However, this is one gesture that may not be around much longer. I’ve noticed that it’s mostly older people who do it. Religion is becoming less important in Greek society. Making the sign of the cross outside of the religious context is sometimes accompanied by the expression ‘panayia mou!’, the same way as in Ireland, people might say ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph!’ when crossing themselves.

3. What gestures to use to express "thank you" in Greece?

One very nice gesture you can easily do is to say  “thank you” by placing your right hand on your chest over your heart. Some people pat their chests once or twice as well. It’s very effective. Like all hand gestures, it’s good in situations where it’s very noisy or where you’re far away from the person you want to communicate with. Even though this gesture would not normally be used in Ireland, its meaning is very obvious.

4. How Greeks greet by nodding?

When I’m out and about on my moped, I often pass neighbours on their motorbikes. They greet me with a nod of the head from right to left. So it’s like a downward nod but also moving diagonally from right to left. And this is the same gesture which means ‘yes’. The sidewards movement can be confusing at first because it can resemble the ‘no’ gesture in Ireland which is a side-to-side shake of the head.

5. Do Greeks nod for No?

The other gesture which can be a bit confusing at first is the gesture meaning ‘no’. This is a straight upward movement of the head which, depending on the starting point, can look a bit like a nod of the head which, of course,  means ‘yes’ in Ireland. The ‘no’ head movement is often accompanied by a tongue click, like a tut. Often people don’t even say the word ‘ochi’,  meaning ‘no’; they just lift their heads and click their tongue. And some people add a further facial expression to emphasise the ‘no’ gesture by closing their eyes as well as tutting. 

6. What is the gesture for "what's up"?

Another gesture that I like a lot is the shorthand for ‘what’s occurring?’ or ‘what’s up?’ or ‘what are you doing here?’. You hold out your right hand, relaxed,  with the palm facing downwards and the fingers relaxed and gently curving. Then you flick your wrist to the right, turning the palm upwards, keeping the fingers gently curled, and not making a fist. It’s a very relaxed movement and a gentle enquiry. This way you show interest and curiosity about what someone is up to.


Gestures and facial expressions, as well as body language and voice tone and intonation all, add an awful lot of meaning to our interpersonal communications. That’s why face-to-face communication will always be very important. You need to keep your eyes open and observe people carefully when you’re learning a language to learn gestures and facial expressions that match with and enhance whatever you want to say. It’s also a way to be accepted as a fluent speaker of the language.

Ursula Byrne, Greek Language Student

Recent Posts

1 thought on “6 Greek Gestures and Facial expressions and their meaning!”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top