A Lesson in Mexican Gestures

We are slowly starting to feel relatively comfortable in Mexico: things don’t seem so unusual, and both of us are starting to notice subtle things. Well…if you can call gestures in Mexico subtle.

Chins tilting, cupped palms, and a version of the “OK” sign are only a handful of the gestures that I have noticed in Mexico. I wanted to find out what they mean, so we had our our friend, Iker (a Federali turned lawyer), help clarify the meanings. He was also nice enough to pose for photos.

Here are a few gestures you might come across in Mexico:

  • Hurry Up!
    This gesture, shown by rubbing the forefinger and thumb together, does not mean money in Mexico, it means you need to get moving!
  • Expensive
    Holding the thumb and forefinger up with the back of the hand to the viewer indicates that something is expensive. You’ll see husbands making this gesture to their wives in the markets or other shopping venues.
  • Cheapskate
    If you are haggling with someone and you notice someone else nearby tapping their bent elbow consider yourself insulted. Tapping on the elbow means “stingy” or “cheap” in Mexico.
  • Cunning
    You should watch out for someone who is “colmilludo”, which loosely translates to cunning or crafty. This is indicated by tapping one’s eyeteeth which are called “colmillos” in Spanish. This gesture refers to someone that is always looking out for himself. Iker told us that it is used both positively and negatively it just depends on the context — but I got the feeling that this is rarely used as a compliment.
  • Asshole
    Yup…the one gesture you need to know the most since it resembles the Western “OK” sign. It is formed by touching the thumb and forefinger together creating a very small circle. This is extremely rude and never used to someone’s face. See the gallery below to check out our friend Iker who kindly modeled all the gestures for us…even the rude ones.
  • OK
    As mentioned above the “OK” sign is the same here as at home. Just make sure that circle you make isn’t too small!
  • Lazy
    The gesture for lazy is a cupped palm facing upwards, like you are holding something heavy. One or both hands can be used in this gesture. This is highly inappropriate because it refers to lifting “huevos” (which is Mexican slang for testicles). Basically the meaning behind this gesture is that the owner’s “balls” are so big and heavy that he can’t get up!
  • What’s up?
    People will greet you with this gesture which is often just tilting the chin up or tilting the chin up with palms upturned and a shrug. It means “What’s happening?” but you will also see it used as a general greeting. I have found even the youngest kids know this gesture and use it in replace of a verbal greeting.


It might take awhile at first to recognize these cultural cues but once you have an idea of what to look for you will see them used all over Mexico. Gestures tend to vary from place to place so it’s probably best to use them when you are absolutely certain you know what they mean…after all, calling someone an asshole when you meant to say “OK” might not go over so well.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.