In Spanish language there is an expression "llegar con las manos colgando", that can be literally translated to something like:

If you are invited to a friend's party or social gathering, you need to bring some food or drinks, you can't just show up "with your hands hanging" (from your arms).

This is to express that if you are not holding anything in your hands when your host greets you, then you are empty handed, so your hands are just hanging from your arms, which can be considered bad manners.

Is there an equivalent expression in English, other than the generic being "empty-handed"?

  • 1
    In your title, I'd say arrive at a place.
    – TRiG
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 14:27

7 Answers 7


In A Dictionary of Hiberno-English: The Irish Use of English by Terence Patrick Dolan there is the entry: arm. Here we can read: "He came home with one arm as long as the other (i.e., without any kind of present ...)".

Also, on urbandictionary.com we can read:

One arm as long as the other
Basically turning up somewhere with nothing to give when something is expected. i.e coming to a party empty handed. Irish in origin

Jim: "Dave arrived in late to the wedding yesterday, the clown"
John: "Typical. Did he bring a pressie"
Jim: "Not at all, arrived in with one arm as long as the other [emphasis added]"

So, Spanish expression "llegar con las manos colgando" seems perfectly equivalent to English "one arm as long as the other".

  • 1
    Irish English idioms are not always well known in the rest of the English speaking world, particularly those which are translated from Gaelic idioms. Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 8:48

"Don't show up empty-handed." gets 4,400,000 hits on Google. I'd say that's probably the winner ... hands down.

  • The OP explicitly says other than the generic being "empty-handed", so this is not an answer. Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 9:04
  • As a frame challenge: it is the correct phrase in this circumstance, and the only suitable phrase likely to be recognized outside of Ireland. Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 2:25

My mother has often said that she never liked to arrive at a social gathering with both arms the same length, which I think captures well the spirit of your Spanish expression.

My mother is English, but has lived in Ireland long enough to pick up many Irish expressions. I don't know where this expression originates.


To have nothing to contribute is, in fact, one of the principal meanings of empty-handed, and what I would turn to naturally: We can't just show up to the baby shower empty-handed!

There are more colorful words for those who exploit others' generosity, though— moocher, freeloader, schnorrer, sponge, free-rider*— or those who would do anything to save a little money—cheapskate, skinflint, tightwad. We can't just show up to the picnic empty-handed, they'll think we're moochers.

  • The OP explicitly says other than the generic being "empty-handed". Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 9:05

My husband's family, who are Northern Irish, use the expression "the two arms the one length"--which means not carrying anything--to describe someone who arrives at another's home not bringing a gift of some sort, usually to a celebration, meal, etc.

  • I'm from Northern Ireland and I've often heard, and used, "two arms the one length", most frequently in the context "Stop standing there with your two arms the one length" and meaning "help, give a hand, don't stand there idle while others do the work" etc. I've never heard it used in the context of arriving at a party empty-handed.
    – Robin
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 10:35

I too was going to add the old folk saying of your standing there with both your arms the same length, in other words help me and don't stand doing nothing. It is also a English saying from the countryside and has origins in English folk lore tho looking on the Internet it is difficult to find this origin and saying.. It does however crop up in a 1970s thriller /esoteric/folk horror drama pendas fen 1974.from play for today..

  • Can you add some references?
    – Helmar
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 15:20
  • I'm having a bit of trouble understanding what the first sentence is supposed to mean. Could you please edit this to make the answer more clear?
    – as4s4hetic
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 1:42
  • 1
    Penda's fen was written by a Northern Irish playwright, so is not evidence of use outside of Irish dialect. Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 9:00

Robin and a couple of others are correct. I am a native of Northern Ireland, and the phrase “Standing there with your two arms the same length” means “why are you standing there not helping”. I came online to check if the phrase was well known enough to show up in a Google search. Mostly because I used it with my Texan daughter today.

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