Italians: a nation of (football) coaches.
Italians: passionate, poetic dreamers.
Italians: pizza and mandolins.
Italians do it better.
You’re about to move to Italy, and there are all sorts of clichés about Italians out there.
Well why don’t you add this one to your collection? Italy: a nation of chatterboxes and heirs of a magnificent language made up of quirky and peculiar expressions, often impossible to translate.
The words and common sayings so typical of the Italian language reflect the country’s incredible distinctive features: the lifestyle, traditions, and above all, good food!
So to help you prepare to fully immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of the Bel Paese [‘Bel Paese’ is a common way of referring to Italy, literally meaning ‘Beautiful Country’] and to throw yourself headlong into Italian culture, here are a few unique Italian expressions for you to learn: they’ll really help you feel at home right away.
1. Apericena – a cross between the Italian words for ‘aperitif’: aperitivo, and ‘dinner’: cena.
Young students about to head off to Milan, this one’s for you. Forget about sad dinners alone at the table in your small apartment. Don’t even think about having takeaway pizza on the sofa. No leftovers from the fridge for one. In Milan, after a hard day’s work or study, get yourself over to the heaving streets of the city’s social scene to have a drink and usher in the evening in style. But of course we’re in Italy, and here a good drink doesn’t come unaccompanied by an avalanche of food. All over Italy, and in Milan to be more precise, quantity is no object, and even when you go for an aperitif, the mountain of food you are presented with transforms the occasion into an apericena. Get ready to sit down at 19:00 with the intention of sipping on a light cocktail, only to get up at 23:00 so full you could burst. All for the cost of a drink. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
2. Stare con le mani in mano – literal translation: to stand with your hands folded, meaning: to stand idly by.
If you’ve ever met an Italian, you’ll know that when they speak, they don’t just use their voice, but their entire body to express themselves. More specifically, in Italy hand gestures are an extremely important method of communication. With this in mind, this saying suddenly makes sense: for an Italian, standing there with your hands folded is a condition of total inertia, of idleness and complete closure. More precisely, anyone standing there with their hands folded is not helping anyone, and is failing to make themselves useful in times of need.
3. Andare a letto con le galline – translation: to go to bed with the chickens/early to bed, early to rise.
Are you really tired and want to go to bed early? You can borrow this expression from Italian peasant tradition. Going to bed with the chickens means hitting the hay before it gets dark, like farmyard animals.
4. Trattare a pesci in faccia – literal translation: to slap (someone) in the face with a fish, meaning: to mistreat/insult someone.
Food again? Of course. In this case, used in a derogatory sense. Trattare a pesci in faccia qualcuno doesn’t literally mean throwing seabass and bream at someone, but not respecting them and being rather rude. In France they use the elegant variation of a glove, in Italy it’s fish. Hardly surprising!
5. Abbiocco – closest equivalent in English: food coma
It’s neither tiredness, nor fatigue. Abbiocco is a typically Italian physical and mental state, which presents itself after a meal. That’s right, because meals Italian-style turn into hours spent sitting around a table laden with plenty of food, chatting and good wine. It makes perfect sense that all that would leave you nodding off. This feeling is precisely what abbiocco is. Get ready to make regular use of this expression!