Becoming Italian

Italians in general, and in the smaller towns in particular, do not speak English. But with some simple tricks, even those who do not speak any Italian can fit in and act a little Italian during their daily encounters.

Courtesy

A little courtesy goes a long way in Italy.

  • Greet the people you meet with a Buon Giornoor just Giorno. After siesta (13-16), you use Buena Sera or just Sera People who you are more familiar with can be greeted with a Ciao. In the area around Antigo they also use the greeting Salve. 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.
  • Grazie(thank you) och Prego (you’re welcome) are important courtesy words in Italy, just as 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 be forgiven, or to request something
  • Use per favore(please) at the end of a request

Coffee

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) – the closest you come to regular brewed coffee in Italy
  • Cappuccinois the same

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

Food

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

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

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. Maybe even throw in a pizza and share that too!

If you’re starting to feel hungry around lunch time, a must-try is pranzo di lavoro (workers lunch). For about €10 you get a full menu including wine.

Drinks

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
  • Uno vino rosso– a glass of red wine
  • Uno 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 this fantastic translating app (see: Apps) from Google. 

  • 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.