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Most Common Greek Gestures and Their Meaning

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Greeks are known for their vivid expressions of emotions, with various gestures taking center stage. Here’s what they mean. Credit: Mstyslav Chernov / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Greek people are known for their vivid expression of emotions, among which various gestures occupy a special place.

A sign of gratitude or insult, agreement or question, their unique diversity in many ways reflects this vibrant culture. Knowing these gestures will help you navigate communication in Greek more easily so that you can better understand the locals.

Moutza, the most offensive of all Greek gestures

The worst gesture that will definitely offend a person is the ‘moutza.’ Its rudeness is equivalent to showing the middle finger in the U.S., and its use will definitely be considered an insult. It may even get you into trouble.

The moutza looks like an outstretched hand with the palm facing forward, all fingers extended and spread to the sides. This gesture can be seen on the roads when drivers or pedestrians express dissatisfaction with someone’s behavior.

Due to the appearance of this gesture, it can be confused with a simple wave of the hand. Therefore, in Greece you should be careful when calling or greeting someone with your hand, so as not to inadvertently offend anyone.

“Thank you” Beyond Words

In Greece, conveying gratitude can transcend words. A heartfelt gesture involves placing your right hand over your heart, exemplifying warmth and appreciation. Another variation includes gently tapping the chest two or three times, offering a sincere expression of thanks.

This is a very popular and universal Greek gesture that expresses gratitude when words are either not needed or not heard—for example, if a person is far away or there is a busy street nearby.

Complicated Way to Say ‘No’

A popular Greek gesture that can be slightly discouraging is a simple “no.” To express it without words, a person raises a head and eyebrows straight up, while clicking his tongue, which resembles a tut.

The gesture can be a bit confusing because, depending on the starting point, it can look a bit like a nod of the head, which in many countries means agreement. Regardless, this gesture is very common among Greeks, so it is wise to repeat your question until the person says what they mean.

Nodding to Say ‘Yes’

Saying ‘yes’ without words in Greek is a bit easier. This understandable and very international gesture looks like a nod of the head downwards. In this case, the person’s eyes are usually slightly closed.

The nod can be repeated two or three times. In any case, the emphasis is not on raising the head up, but on lowering it down.

Greek Gesture to Remember Something

Snapping the fingers is a common Greek gesture while trying to remember something. For example, when communicating with someone, a person may snap the fingers two or three times, trying to remember a friend’s name or some details of the story. Additionally, this gesture can be used to encourage the interlocutor to complement your speech.

Moreover, in another context, the gesture may take on a cruder meaning. Thus, finger snapping can also be used when trying to wake someone impatiently.

Greeks Cross Themselves

Religion is an important part of the lives of many Greeks. In 2018, a Pew Research Center study found that seventy-six percent of Greeks said that “to be truly Greek is to be a Christian in order to truly share your national identity.”

This high level of religiosity is also reflected in everyday gestures. On the streets and on public transportation in Greece, you can often see people making the sign of the cross. This gesture is especially common when near religious sites and churches as well as when passing them on a bus or car. Although older Greeks are those who usually make this gesture, it is also not uncommon among younger people.


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