10 Phrases to Take to Italy
I'm packing my suitcases and heading for Italy soon, so I'm dusting off some essential and quintessentially Italian conversation starters. Here are some I never leave home without:
1. Common courtesies. You’re more likely to get what you ask for when you preface a request with “per favore” (please) and respond to any kindness with “grazie” (thank you). Prego can mean, “You’re welcome,” or, in some circumstances, “by all means.”
2. Salutations. Although “ciao!” has become world-famous, the more polite greeting is “Buongiorno" (Good day) or "Buonasera" (Good evening). An alternative more common in the North than the South is “Salve!” Take your leave with a cheery "Arrivederci!" (See you again!)
3. Introductions. In Italian, you don't simply announce your name. You say, "Mi chiamo..." (I call myself). To find out another person's name, ask, "Come si chiama?" (How do you call yourself?)
4. How are you? When asked “come sta?” you might reply "bene" (well), "molto bene" (very well) or non c’é male (not bad). If asked “come va?” (how’s it going), the most common answer is the Italian equivalent of “okay”: va bene (it’s going well).
5. Asking for help. If it’s a true emergency, shout “Aiuto!” If you’d like help with something less urgent, ask, “Scusi, può aiutarmi?" (Excuse me, can you help me?) To acknowledge the kindness of a stranger, say, “Lei é molto gentile” (You are very kind).
6. Buying. It’s possible to shop without words anywhere in the world, but the following phrases will serve you well in Italy: Quanto costa? (How much does it cost?) Posso pagare con una carta di credito? (Can I pay with a credit card?) “In cash" translates as in contanti. If you want to try something on, ask “Posso provarlo?”
7. Time. To find out the time, you ask “Che ora é?” (what is the hour?) or "Che ore sono?" (what are the hours?). Italy uses a 24-hour clock (sistema orario a 24 ore) so that 6:00 p.m., for instance, is 18:00 (diciotto).
8. Weather. Everyone talks about it everywhere, but in Italian weather (il tempo) “makes” rather than “is.” “Fa bello” (literally makes beautiful) means “It’s a nice day.” Weather can also fa brutto (ugly), freddo (cold) or caldo (hot). On a sunny day, "c’è sole” (there’s sun). "Cloudy" translates as coperto (covered) or nuvoloso; “it’s raining,” as piove.
9. Illness. “Sto male” means “I’m feeling bad.” Common travellers’ complaints include headache (mal di testa), stomach ache (male di pancia), fever (febbre) and pain (dolore).
10. Compliments. Che bello! (How beautiful! How nice!) works in almost any circumstance. With any luck, you’ll have many occasions to use it.
Words and Expressions
Sono americano/inglese/ francese, etc. -- I’m American, English, French, etc.
Non ho capito -- I didn't/don't understand
Può ripetere, per favore? -- Can you repeat, please?
Parla inglese? -- Do you speak English?
Come si dice......in italiano? -- How do you say ...... in Italian?
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language. Click here for the latest post in her "Discovering Mona Lisa" blog. FInd out more about her guided walks through Mona Lisa's Florence here.