A touch of Italian

Italians in general, and in the smaller towns in particular, do not speak a lot of English. But with some simple friendly moves, and using your imagination and body language, even if you do not speak any Italian can fit in and act a little Italian during their daily encounters.


A little courtesy goes a long way in Italy.

  • Greet the people you meet, also when entering a shop, with a Buongiorno. After siesta (13-16), you use Buonasera. People who you are more familiar with can be greeted with a Ciao. In the area around Antigo and Lunigiana the greeting Salve is often used also. This is the most important tip in the entire section. You can skip the rest if you like, but do not forget to show courtesy when meeting others. And when leaving a store, add a Arriverderci, Buona giornata or Buona serenata.
  • Grazie (thank you) och Prego (you’re welcome) are important courtesy words in Italy, just as in the rest of Europe.
  • Feel free to throw in a Bene (good) instead of Grazie sometimes, when you want to feel a bit more local.
  • Say mi scuso (excuse me) to request something or give an apology
  • Use per favore (please) at the end of a request


Its easy to get mixed up because we use different words for coffee than Italians do.

  • Caffé normale= Single espresso
  • Caffé doppio= Double espresso
  • Caffé latte= Latte (if you only say latte, you will get a glass of milk)
  • Caffé americano= Americano (Espresso with hot water to fill the cup) – if you want a lighter brew.
  • Cappuccino is… a cappuccino!

Italians would normally only have milk in their coffee in the mornings. If you truly want to fit in, then it’s only milk-free coffees in the afternoons and evenings.


In Italy food is taken seriously. Here is the brief layout of a meal and how it works.

  • Antipasti, small appetizers or cold meat before the real meal
  • Primo or Primi piatti, a pasta dish
  • Secondo or Secondi piatti, the main dish. Often comprised of a piece of meat or fish. You have to order contorni(sides) to get for example potatoes or vegetables added.
  • Dolce, dessert

Preferably order a multi-course menu and share between 2-3 people rather than each ordering separate pasta dishes. Just say that you would like to divide (share) and its never a problem.

If you’re starting to feel hungry around lunch time, a must-try is pranzo di lavoro (workers lunch). For about €12 you get a full menu including wine, water and coffee.


A few phrases for when you want to order drinks. Don’t forget to add per favore at the end.

  • Un aqua– a bottle of water
  • Un vino rosso– a glass of red wine
  • Un vino biancho– a glass of white wine
  • Una birra– a bottle of beer
  • Una birra a la spina– a beer on tap
  • Un altro– another round of what you were drinking
  • Bottiglia– bottle
  • Bicchiere – glass


Google Translate

Don’t miss the  translating app from Google to help you master the lingo: 


  • Use it for example to practice a phrase before you go up to an Italian, for example “We would like to have a table for four people” or “Where can I find bags to make ice cubes?”
  • You can use your phone camera to view text and get it translated instantly, perfect for menus and signs around town.
  • With a good connection the app can translate directly through the microphone between you and an Italian speaking into it.