The culture in Italy is very different than in the U.S... especially concerning rules of proper behavior. What is acceptable in the States might be considered disgusting in Italy. What Italians consider as normal behavior, we would never thing of doing at home. Here are a few differences...
Before I voyaged to Italy, I wanted to learn phrases that weren't the standard tourist expressions. I wanted help in the day to day situations that would arise... to assimilate into Italian life with "street language", possibly even including some well-chosen curse words. I've always held the belief that when traveling in a foreign country, one should make a decent attempt in learning at least some of the language. It's the polite thing, with the added benefit of not sounding like an arrogant "ugly American" tourist, but as a more seasoned World Voyager. I can still recall an Ugly American years ago in rural, central France demanding in an overly loud voice, "I would like some PLAIN bread!"... sheer embarrassment.
For example, one of the more helpful non-tourist Italian expressions I learned was "Va Via!" (Hit the Road!) This became invaluable when being hawked by aggressive street vendors, beggars, scammers or someone trying to rob us. I used it several times with great success--they backed off and were given the impression that I was a confident local and not an easy mark, tourist. It was just as effective as in Paris when I felt a hand in my shoulder bag and yelled "Voleur!" (Thief)... drawing the French people's attention to the thief, causing him to flee. Sounding like a local is a real benefit and boosts your confidence when traveling.
I've listed some expressions which are well worth learning for your next Voyage to Italy. And don't be shy about trying to sound Italian when pronouncing the words. Years ago when learning French, I imagined a mix of Maurice Chevalier (of "Every leetle breeze seems to wheesper Louise" fame) and Charles Boyer (for a deeper, sexy voice) when I spoke. Hey, it must have worked, because although I admit to speaking very poor baby-talk French, and I'm not that great at one-on-one personal conversations, at least my accent est très bon. A vendor in Paris, after asking where I was from said in surprise, "Ahh... but I took you for a Frenchman!" High praise indeed from a Parisian selling necklaces in a flea market.
Click on the link for each below
to hear the pronunciation
When the Google Translate window pops up, click on speaker icon under the Italian phrase to hear the pronunciation. Try to mimic your favorite, sexy Italian TV chef (Fabio? Luca?) when you pronounce these phrases. Use your best Italian accent and you'll do fine...
Allora - This is used a lot in casual conversation as a pause to allow the speaker time to think of his next thoughts. It is used like "then", "oh well...", "therefore", "Mmmm, let me see... ". Examples:
"Allora... tutto bene." (You see... Everything is fine); "Allora...prendo un risotto Milanese." (Let's see... I'll have risotto Milanese.); or after someone does something nice for you, you can stretch it out a bit and say "Allora, mille grazie!" (Well then, a thousand thanks!).
Boh! - More of an exclamation for "I don’t know”, "I don't care" or "I don't want to hear it". It expresses your disinterest ambivalence toward the subject of discussion. The closest thing in English is “meh”, but Italian's use this a lot.
Avete le mani d'oro - "You have gold hands", meaning the person is gifted in using his hands, as when complimenting a local artisan.
Attaccalo al chiodo - Literally, "Stick it to the nail", meaning "forget about it" "leave it for later".
Leccapiedi - A toadie, a boot-licker, a brown-nose--An ass kisser. They have them in Italy, too.
Olio di gomito - Literally, "oil from the elbow. Referring to an exertion of physical labor, as we use "elbow grease".
La mia macchina è in panne - Literally, "my macchina (car) is creamed". This is used to describe something broken, as in "Mia macchina ha una panna, allora prendo un taxi." (My car is broken, in that case I'll take a cab.)
Che ne so - Used as a sarcastic response to someone asking something that you don't (or couldn't possibly) know. A gesture typically accompanies this phrase... a shrug of the shoulder along with wavering hands turned toward the sky as you shake your head "no". Use it as we do when we say "How in heck should I know?" rather than the more precise and formal "Non lo so" (I do not know).
Non mi va - This means something like "It doesn't go with me" and is used when someone suggests something that you don't or won't agree to. Use it casually as you would say "I don’t feel like it", for instance if someone suggests a restaurant that you wouldn't like, or with a stronger voice if you are trying to get rid of a pushy vendor or hawker on the street trying to sell you something that you'd never buy... "Allora... Non mi va!". Kids will say it to get out of doing what their parents tell them to do.
In bocca al lupo - Literally, "in the wolf’s mouth". Used to wish someone good luck, meaning to aim into the wolf's mouth to kill it (the wolf represents the difficulty they are facing). When wishing someone will overcome something more serious, use "crepi il lupo", literally, "Croak the wolf!". Sort of like when we say to someone "You'll beat it" or "You'll kill it". Always use this when wishing someone Good Luck.
Neanche per sogno - Literally, "Not even in (your) dream". Used to slap back someone's offer or when you don't agree with a suggestion, such as "Not in your wildest dreams" or simply "No way!".
Sono stanco - Literally, "I'm weary (tired)". Use after a long day of walking around tourist sites, such as "Sono stanco. Troppo a piedi. Ho bisogno di gelato freddo!" (I'm tired. Too much walking. I need a cold gelato!")
Magari - This is slang for "maybe" or perhaps "if it could only be true". You could use it expressing hope to win the Lotto or meeting the perfect mate, or "Voglio avere figli... magari" (I want to have children... I could only wish.)
Ogni morto di papa - Literally, "Every Death of a Pope", used the same as "Once in a blue moon". Make sure to accent "Papa" correctly... accent on the first syllable (PA-pa). If you say "pa-PA" you are taking about your Dad.
Salve, come va? - Literally "Hello, how’s it going?" The more formal way is to ask "Buongiorno, come stai?"(Good morning, how are you). It’s a less formal way of greeting someone, but use "come sta" in formal or business situations.
Galeotto fu il libro - "Jailbird was the book"... an odd expression referring to matchmaking two people. Perhaps referring to when a guy gives a girl a book (a present) they'll become imprisoned--in love. Some of the roots behind these expressions are really difficult to comprehend.
Promettere mari e monti - Literally, "Promise the seas and mountains". Used like "Promise Heaven and Earth". Examples: "Non mi prometti mari e monti" (I am not promising Heaven and Earth" or "Mi ha promesso mari e monti" (He promised me Heaven and Earth").
Non chiedo la luna - "I'm not asking for the moon". Used when frustrated with someone complaining about a simple request. One of the more useful expressions to make your request in a restaurant or hotel seem like it's coming from a more seasoned Voyager who can't be taken advantage of. (I wish I knew this one when picking up rental cars at Hertz!)
Andare a monte - (ahn-DAR-eh a MOHN-teh) - Literally, "Go to the mountain", but it figuratively means that everything went downhill and failed. Examples: Un viaggio va a monte (The trip was called off); Il matrimonio è andato a monte (the marriage failed). Use to describe something that went awry or got fouled up.
Ho peli sul mio stomaco - Literally, "I have hairs on my stomach", meaning you're not taking something seriously or that it's not bothering you.
Ne ho fin sopra i capelli - Literaly, "I'm sick up to my hair". Use it the same as "I’ve had it up to here" or "I'm fed up to here" or "I'm sick and tired". You can use a hand gesturing to the top of your head with this.
Capitare su un osso duro - Literally, "Happen on a tough bone". A pejorative. Use it referring to dealing with a tough cookie. A person who is "un osso duro" (a tough bone) is a bit thick and stubborn. You can also use "capo tosto" meaning "thick (tough) head". A hand motion goes with this... knocking your knuckles or fist on a table as you say it.
Dare del filo da torcere - Literally, "giving a twisted thread". Think of a small, precocious child asking "Why... Why... Why" no matter how many times you give an answer. "Torcere" means to Twist. They’re never satisfied with your answers. To tell someone about your daughter's quizzical nature, you could say, "Mia figlia mi dà del filo da torcere" (My daughter gives me a hard time). In the positive, you might also use this to describe how smart and curious your kid is because he asks many questions.
Essere in alto mare - This is a common phrase used when someone has procrastinated and discover that they are behind on a project. It literally means that you are in deep water with a long way to go before getting finished.
Mi fa cagare! - Instead of the much more polite "È orribile" ("It's awful!"), Italians will say bluntly, "It makes me poop," . So, when taking about "That restaurant? Mi fa cagare!" "Her new dress?! Mi fa cagare!" "That new American singer? Mi fa cagare!"
Mi sento le mani prudono - Literally, "I'm feeling itchy hands" means you feel like hitting someone... you're pissed off. Be careful how you use this.
Figurati! - Literal, "Imagine (that)!", used as "Don't worry about it!" or "It's nothing!" You can use this in both positive or negative ways. "Thanks for a great meal... Figurati!" or when to act innocent and blameless when you've just dented someone's fender who just cut into your lane, "I'm so sorry I ran into you... Figurati!" It's like saying "mi scusi" (excuse me) without really meaning it.
Dai! - This simply means "Come on!" as in, "Please, you can't deny me." When someone refuses your suggestion to go have a drink, you say "Dai!" along with a motioning hand gesture toward yourself. You can also use it to try to stop someone from doing something negative. "Why are you pushing me? Dai! Wait your turn!"
Meno Male! - Literally, "less bad." Oh, HE got elected? Meno Male! As long as that other jerk didn't win!" "I passed the test? Meno male!"
Che palle! - This is a rather crude, but everyday expression meaning, “what balls!” or "what a pain in the ass!" but stronger than "what nerve!"
Ho perso il mio portafoglio. (I lost my wallet.)
Che palle! (What a pain!)
Grazie a Dio! - "Thank God!" used the same way we use it to express great relief. Always include the "a" (meaning "to")... "Thanks to God" otherwise, you would be thanking God directly.
Che guastafesta - Roughly translates as "What a party pooper". Guastafesta is a combination of two Italian words: the verb guastare, “to spoil” or “to ruin,” and the word festa, which means “party.” Use it when anyone is putting a damper on your fun or a monkey wrench into your plans.
Ma, che sei grullo? - Used more in Florence, literally "But, how stupid are you?" It's used like "Are you kidding?" or "Are you crazy?" to friends. Say it to a stranger and you might get in trouble. Example: "I'll pay for dinner." Response, "Ma, che sei grullo?" or "You paid that much for those shoes? Ma, che sei grullo?"
Scappo! - Slang for "escape" or "I'm gone" or "I'm outta here!".
Basta! - Literally, "Enough!". This can be used in simple ways, like telling a waiter when he's put enough pepper on your dish, or more forcefully when someone is BS-ing you, as in, "Basta! Non voglio sentire altre scuse!" - "That's enough! I don't want to hear any excuses!" Can be combined with above... "Scappo! Basta!".
A fagiolo - Literally, fagiolo means “bean,” but the phrase a fagiolo (“to the bean”) means something like the English “to the letter” or “to a T.” It indicates to someone that you are expecting precision from them.
Ti scureggia il cervello - Use this only with friends, or when you really want to insult someone. It means, literally, "your brain is farting". A Roman expression.
Cazzata - Literally "Crap!" or perhaps a bit more blunt, as it's derived from "cazzo" (f*ck). Used when you get a whiff of someone's BS. Or to scold yourself when you said something crappy or stupid, "Dio, ho detto una cazzata," meaning, "God, I said something f*cked up."
Figo - Slang for "Cool", meaning something great or nice. Used to describe things or people. End it with an "a", "Figa" can also describe a cool (or rather, "Hot)" female, but be forewarned, the word "figa" is also used as a very crude reference to a woman's vagina (similar to "c*nt"). A "figata" is something that is cool or great--used as the opposite of a "cazzata."
Mannaggia - Used as "Damn!" or combined as "Manageria miseria"--"Damned misery!" Used to express utter frustration with someone, something or a frustrating situation.
Zitto - Slang and abrupt was to get someone to keep quiet. "Zitto!" or "Stai zitto!" means "Shut up!" or "Shush!"
I hope you'll put some of these expressions to good use during your next Voyage to Italy. This was a long post, Sono Stanco! If only I had someone else to write these posts for me... magari!
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The cimaruta is a very old Italian portafortuna (good luck charm) rooted in the lore of the ancient Pagan religions of Italy. It can be worn around the neck or hung above an infant's bed to ward off any evil. Like many of the lasting ancient symbols and beliefs, the cimaruta design eventually took on certain symbols of Catholicism. One example of a Christian addition to the design is the appearance of "the sacred heart" of Jesus. However, ancient Roman charms did include a heart symbol, which may indicate that the heart on the cimaruta isn't an entirely new addition.
The traditional cimaruta is fashioned after the leafy sprig of rue, which is an herb that is highly featured in Italian magic and lore. The branch of the rue is divided into three stems symbolizing the three forms of the goddess Diana. Rue was a sacred herb for Diana.
Various charms appear on the rue design, each having its own meaning. The main symbols are the moon, serpent, and key. These represent the goddess as Hecate (the key), Diana (the moon) and Proserpina (the serpent). There may also be a rose; a hand holding either a wand or a sword; a flaming heart; a fish or dolphin (a nod to Diana); an owl (to flirt with the Devil); a plumed medieval helmet; a vervain blossom (a flower from Italian fairy ore); a cherub; a rooster (watchful guardian); and an eagle (able to see evil coming from far away). One cimaruta, for example, might bear the collective imagery of a key, dagger, blossom and moon. The cimaruta is worn nowadays more by women than men.
Mano in Fica
The clenched fist with a trusting thumb is known as mano in fica or simply, mano figa ("fig-hand"), or far le fiche ("c*nt gesture", pardon the profanity), for the resemblance to female genitalia. The word figa itself is a very vulgar word to describe a vagina in Italy. Such a rude hand gesture was common in past centuries, similar to "giving the finger" or "flipping the bird", but has fallen out of use. Dante's Divine Comedy (Inferno, Canto XXV) mentions the mano in fica. Supposedly, this charm is used to insult the devil and others casting evil spells.
The cornetto, shaped like a horn or chili pepper, is still popular in Southern Italy around Naples, Calabria and in the rest of Mezzogiorno (southern Italy). In Calabria and Naples this charm is worn as jewelry, hung on rear view mirrors, hung in shop windows, on key rings, and on t-shirts. It is more effective if it is red (representing an enemy's blood) and topped with a crown (representing wealth). The cornetto is a symbol of virility (obvious with its phallic shape), but it also brings luck, wealth, success and can also used by women. A similar magical horn of plenty was carried by the Roman Goddess Abundantia to represent abundance, and many think the cornetto has its roots in ancient Roman times.
An alternative to the cornetto, some claim the Mano Corno can ward off the malocchio (evil eye). However, in Italy, the Mano Corno can be seen as offensive... this hand gesture is called cornuto, or a cuckolded man. Give this hand sign to an Italian man and you are basically calling him weak, pathetic and unmanly. This sign--along with sticking up a middle finger--are the most insulting signs you can insult an Italian man with. This charm directly insults the devils and his demons himself.
The Coccinella, or ladybug (ladybird) charm brings luck in the arena of love and romance. it's a very common charm in Italy, especially with women. The red color has multiple meanings... red represents victory over one's enemies (spilling their blood); red helps ward off malocchio; and red also is the color of passion and romance. Another fact about the ladybug is they eat the bad bugs who would eat a farmer's crops, so of course they came to be thought of as a sign of good luck, helping prevent crop failure.
When I was a kid, we would occasionally find a garter snake living in our small urban garden along with our collection of 15 box turtles. I always loved snakes... smooth, silky, muscular and graceful. On our country property today, I've often seen several species of snakes: garter, ribbon, black rat. The hill behind our home is called Rattlesnake Hill, but I've never seen one. I still find it interesting when I come across snakes... but I don't honor them in any way and couldn't dream of anyone holding a festival for them!
Yet, each year in the beginning of May, in the small towns of Cocullo and Villalag0, La Festa dei Serpari is held. The festival is held in honor of Saint Dominic, protector of toothache, reptile bites and rage. But the festival also has ancient pagan roots in honor of the Oscan healer and snake goddess, Angizia. Also known as Angitia to the ancient Romans, she was revered by the Marsi, a warlike tribe of people who lived to the east of Rome in the Apennine Mountains.
Angizia possessed an ability to heal those who had been poisoned--especially by snakes--and had the power to kill serpents by casting verbal spells. First century Romans knew the Marsi region contained many healers, magicians, and snake-charmers was infamous as a hotbed of witchcraft. The Festa dei Separi honors the modern-day separi (snake wranglers), with many of them catching and contributing snakes to the festivities.
In preparation for the Festival, during the last half of March, the separi spread out across the countryside in their hunt for snakes. Once captured, they are carefully stored in wooden boxes, or as in ancient times, inside terracotta containers for 15-20 days. The snakes are fed a healthy diet of live mice and hard-boiled eggs.
On the day of the festival, pilgrims gather in the church of San Domenico to be healed. After Mass, the statue of the Saint is draped with live snakes and carried into the piazza where believers gather to touch both the Saint and the snakes for their healing powers. The local separi also drape themselves with snakes and follow the procession.
In years past, the snakes were killed afterwards and eaten in a feast, but now the bread is substituted, formed into various snake shapes... interlocking rings of snakes, biting their tails, or as serpents with sliced almond scales and coffee bean eyes. The snakes are no longer killed, but released back into the wild when the festival is over.
Some other scholars argue that the festival dates back even further to the Greek hero and god, Hercules. Supposedly, jealous Hera sent two snakes to kill him in his crib. The infant Hercules was unusually strong and fearless and strangled the snakes before they could strangle him. In the nearby hamlet of Casale votive bronzes representing Hercules have been found.
Saint Domenico himself is particularly revered in Cocullo because some personal relics are kept in the church there: a molar and a horseshoe from his mule. Villalag0 also has one of his molars. There is no telling who has the rest of his teeth. Perhaps they were eaten--by snakes.
In the United States, May Day isn't really a holiday at all. All we know about it is when people with roots from Germanic countries celebrate the return of summer with children dancing around the ribboned May Pole. We also know it as a day of marches for left-wing or worker political parties promoting their agendas for various worker's rights, similar to how workers in many countries treat May Day.
In Italy, the 1st of May is called Festa dei Lavoratori (Workers' Day), similar to American's Memorial Day or Labor Day. While there might still be workers marching and holding protests depending on which way the the political and economic wind is blowing, for most workaday furbo Italians, it's simply a day off from work and a long weekend to go to the beach, attend one of the many rock concerts, have a barbecue or rent a holiday cabin in the mountains. After all, it's a lot of work to organize and protest on hot city streets, isn't it? Easier to just go to the beach and throw some steaks on the grill.
Most museums are closed as well as many other shops for the entire holiday weekend. This is perhaps not the best weekend to visit major tourist destinations in Italy simply because this is one of the holiday weekends where Italians do the tourist thing... just the way Americans might visit tourist sites in the States during Memorial Day or Labor Day weekends.
Still, in some parts of Italy (southern Marche, for example) a red flag is placed at the top of a poplar tree as a Socialist party symbol. If you're overly anti-communist, don't get paranoid... Italian socialists--and communists--mix well with other Italians and tourists alike. You might meet them later on during the weekend at the beach...
Have a great May Day!