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...
Popular tissues in Italy
Blowing your nose in public is perfectly acceptable in Italy. You don't have to hide... you can blow your nose while in the middle of a conversation. In fact, do like the Italians do and start packing tissues wherever you go. And when you have to blow, just blow! Va tutto bene.
Italians never eat on the street while walking along during the normal workday, they never eat in their cars (which at times seems to be an extended part of their bella figura), and wouldn't even consider eating on the Metro. For breakfast, they eat at home or go to a bar for espresso or cappuccino and a sweet pastry. For their 3-hour lunch, they go home for a larger meal. The only times you will see Italians eating outside is at street festivals or sagre, or in certain areas of Italy known for a particular type of street food, like arancinior panelle in Palermo, Sicily. Eating a gelato in public doesn't count against you, though, but Italians usually sit down to enjoy it.
At home, Italians always eat at a table--never on the couch. Families tend to eat their meals together.
Italians don't wear shoes they've worn outside while inside their home--they remove them and put on slippers. They are also very particular what shoes get worn where: shoes and sandals for outside; sport shoes for taking part in sports; flip-flops and rubber sandals for the beach or poolside only; shower shoes for spas/hotel showers; slippers for home. Most Italian homes have a sort of shoe garage... the scarpiera.
Pick up your change
The Nonna next to you in the supermarket will more than likely stop you if you try to pick up fruit of veggies with your bare hands. There are plastic gloves in the produce section for this purpose. It's considered more sanitary.
Italian cashiers do not place your change into your hand. Instead, it's considered more polite to place the change onto a little tray for you to retrieve yourself.
Bread might be used by Italians merely as a scarpetta to wipe up the remaining sauce as they finish their pasta secundo course of a meal. Don't expect bread and butter to be placed on the table at the beginning of a meal. Bread tends to be used as a vehicle in and of itself, for bruschetta, crostini, etc.
Avoiding la colpo d'aria
Italians grow into life respecting their Nonna's warning about avoiding la colpo d'aria (literally, air blow). They fear any breezes or drafts (consider the ubiquitous Italian scarf) that will bring illness: Cervicale (stiff neck), raffredore (common cold), or febbre (a fever).
It's considered polite to use exact change when paying for things in Italy. If you hand someone a €20 note for an €11 purchase, they will likely ask if you have the €11 before giving change for the 20. Get in the habit of carrying coins.
In Italy, unless you've become friendly with someone, don't use "ciao". Instead, address people when leaving or arriving with buongiorno (good day), buonasera (good evening), buonanotte (good night, for late evening before bedtime) or arrivaderci (see you later). You may use a presto (see you soon) or a domani ('til tomorrow) with friends or strangers. Save ciao (bye or hi) or salve (hello) for close friends.
Breastfeeding in the U.S. is still a fairly private thing, and Moms who do it in public typically hide the activity with the use of a blanket or wearable nursing cover. In Italy things are more liberal and you might see mothers breastfeeding without cover in the piazza or parks.
It's Chilly down there
Using the bidet is essential in Italy. It's an integrated part of going to the toilet. Italians couldn't think of not having a bidet to clean their, er... centro storico (historic center) thoroughly. When Italians visit homes in the States, they will tend to take a shower after each and every bowel movement. In Italy, using a bidet is quicker. They use toilet paper after using the toilet, and then straddle the bidet either facing toward or away, depending on which end they are cleaning. They use a special soap for this purpose--Chilly--and water. Patting dry with a towel finishes the process. Both men and women and children use bidets. Hand washing is usually done afterwards. This is part of the bella figura attitude about one's personal appearance and grooming.
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 manid'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.Troppoa 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 chiedola 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.
Hopeli sulmio 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 sentole maniprudono - 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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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!
Ancient Roman temple to Angitia
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.
Separi reaching for his catch
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.
Carrying snake breads on her head
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.
Every year around this time, the town of Altamura in the Alta Murgia region of Puglia settles down to bed in the 21st century and awakes the next morning in the Middle Ages. The Federicus Medieval Festival is a historical re-enactment dedicated to Frederick II of Swabia who stopped in Puglia during his return journey after the Crusades. In 1232 Frederick II decided to have a cathedral built, around which the town center developed.
Held this year from April 28th through May 1st, the festival consists of an historical parade with jugglers, jesters, street performers, flag bearers, and of course, medieval ladies and gentlemen, ancient music and of course, food.
Frederick II was heading towards Bari to sail to the Holy Land, and needed to leave some of his soldiers suffering from malaria in Altamura. Miraculously, they were healed. To celebrate the miraculous recovery, the Emperor had a cathedral built in 1232. Opposing this legend, what the Emperor really wanted was to build a church to obtain the benevolence of Pope Gregory IX (who had previously excommunicated him) in a city with a strategic position within the Pope's beloved Apulia.
When visiting Altamura, don't forget to sample their amazing Pane di Altamura, a wonderful, tasty bread that can stay fresh for up to a month!
No shit! There really is a Shit Museum in Italy... the Museo della Merda. It was in 2015 that Gianantonio Locatelli founded the "museum" in Lombardy along with his associates: Luca Cipelletti, who manages its projects and products, Gaspare Luigi Marcone and Massimo Valsecchi.
The idea came into being in Castelbosco, in the province of Piacenza (just south of Milan) on a farm which makes milk for Grana Padano cheese and includes seven production units. Here every day 3,500 specially selected cows produce around 50,000 litres of milk and 150,000 kilos of poop.
Letame Essciato - Dried Manure fertilizer
The future-thinking Locatelli wanted to turn all this excrement into something useful with his ecological, productive and cultural scheme. Using highly innovative systems, electrical energy started to be produced from the manure. Today the farm produces up to three megawatts per hour! The buildings and offices of the farm are heated exploiting the warmth given off by huge processing tanks called Digestori (digesters) turning the manure into energy. The process also produces fertilizer offered for sale under the name MerdaMe (Shit me).
All these activities have drawn attention from various international institutions concerned with ecology and innovation, leading to widespread recognition and prizes, and making Castelbosco a point of reference.
Locatelli began to gather together friends and artists, leading him to the idea of the Shit Museum. The Museum itself might be called a canvas onto which artists create... the Digesters themselves transformed into a bright colored landmark in the area. The idea for a new museum slowly took shape, emerging from manure to deal with the broader theme of transformation. The museum would be an agent of change which, through educational and research activities, the production of objects of everyday use and the gathering of artifacts and stories concerning excrement in the modern world and throughout history, was to dismantle cultural norms and prejudices.
The first stage of the project was carried out in April 2015 with the inauguration of the exhibition spaces of the Museum, in the rooms on the ground floor of the company premises, located within the medieval castle of Castelbosco. The museum is a blend of aesthetic, scientific, human and animal experiences, both modern day and historic. The concept is that shit is a useful and living material.
The symbol and mascot of the Museum is the dung beetle, considered divine by the Egyptians (and symbol of the Museum itself), to the use of dung in architecture, from ancient Italian civilizations to those in Africa, via historical-literary works such as Pliny’s Naturalis Historia. Right up to the latest scientific research and works of art drawing on the use and reuse of waste and discarded materials, the Museum is a contemporary cabinet of curiosities which finds its main guide in the science and art of transformation.
Museum Activities Right from the start, the Shit Museum was designed to be a production center not only of ideas and exhibitions, but also of objects and projects. The implementation and patenting of the Merdacotta® brand sums up the principle of sustainability. The poo is mixed with clay and gives shape to the first products to bear the Museo della Merda brand: vases, flowerpots, tiles, plates, bowls, a jug and a mug in simple, clean, rustic shapes, harking back to ancient principles.
The ‘primordial products’ of the Museum were presented for the first time during the 2016 Salone del Mobile, in an exhibition which won the promoters Cipelletti and Locatelli first prize in the Milano Design Award. The motivation given was as follows: “for the development of a process of great complexity and innovation, capable of destabilizing common perceptions. The educational itinerary breaks down all the commonplace stereotypes and offers a censorial experience, one which promotes a new vision of the culture of the project.”
Originally installed in 1874, there are apparently more than 2500 of them... the Nasoni (Big Noses) supply fresh water to the public in Rome. The nickname was given because of their spouts' resemblance to a larger than normal nose. Within the Aurelian walls of Rome there are over 250 of them for your use. And have no fear... this water is perfectly fine for drinking--cold and fresh. In fact, using the nasoni is a great way to save on price gouging that goes on with refreshment street vendors, who charge overly high prices for bottled water. Trust me, it can be very hot and humid in Rome--even in the "cooler" spring and fall. Never go anywhere without a water bottle. Filling your own, reusable sport bottle is the way to do it in Rome. Don't waste money on bottled water.
The nasoni are beautifully designed. The 200 pound, cast iron fountains stand about 3 feet tall, with distinctive spouts supplying a continuous stream of potable water. That's right, it flows all the time. Romans call it l’acqua del sindaco (the mayor’s water), since the government maintains the water flow.
The older nasoni have a dragon's head at the end. Newer ones have a smooth torch decoration. Some older ones have three spouts while most have one. Please don't be put off by the rust or minerals built up at the base of the nasoni--the water is perfectly pure. All of the nasoni bear the shield of Rome with SPQR emblazoned on it. This is from the Latin phrase from Ancient Rome: Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (The Roman Senate and People). Today, this is the official emblem of the modern Roman government.
The nasoni also have a little known secret--at least tourists don't seem to know about it... On top of the spout (the nose) there is a small hole that can turn this faucet into a drinking fountain. The trick is holding your hand (hopefully clean) under the open spout, plugging it up. This forces a little water jet to pop out of the small hole on top, allowing you to drink as you would from a modern drinking fountain. (It's customary to rinse your hands before doing this in an effort to keep the spout clean.) Just hold your hand steady as you drink, or you might get sprayed in the face! Watch the cute video below... this bellissima bambina explains it so well.
This is NOT the proper way to do it. Rinse your hands, and then use your PALM to block the spout.
Roman pooches really appreciate lapping up a cool drink
Here is a LINK to an interactive map of Rome that can help locate nasoni.
A nasoni in front of a fountain
There are also over 1000 fontanelle (drinking fountains) scattered around Rome
Lucas soaking his hat in a fountain on Capitoline Hill