We’ve already had the pronunciation guide and the basic phrases you’ll need to get by. The following will show you how to be taken more seriously.
Never say “ciao” to anyone unless they say it to you first. Ever.
If you’re looking to get off a train or bus, and someone is standing in the doorway, and you want them to know you’re getting off, you have to instead ask them if they are getting off: Scendi? shen-dee? Say it to as many people as you need to until you get to the exit.
OH, which reminds me – remember the c and g rule? Here’s an additional tip:
When it’s sci or sce, the “sc” sounds like “sh.” When it’s any other vowel, it sounds like “sk.”
I’ve often found that when I approach a stranger to ask them for directions, I usually say, “Hello, I’m a stupid American” and then the rest of what I want to say with a big knowing smile, and they immediately love me: Buon giorno, sono una scema Americana… bwon-joor-no, so-noon-a-shay-ma-meh-dee-gan (say it exactly like this and you’ll sound like you’re Roman!). If you’re the kind of person who can pull this off, it will get you far.
If you’re invited to someone’s home, ALWAYS say “permesso” before entering, as you cross the threshold. This also works if you enter a store and it appears to be empty.
When in doubt of a word, say it in English with a heavy Italian accent. No kidding. You can test this out by saying “computer.” Say it like you normally do, and watch them glaze over. Say it, comb-poo-tair (not “pyou,” “poo”), and they’ll light up like a Christmas tree.
The “@” sign on their computer keyboard IS NOT IN THE SAME PLACE. Find it on the keyboard – it’s over on the right hand side, next to the L or somewhere around there, then push it and “alt gr” and you’ve got it.
LEARN HOW TO LOG ONTO YOUR EMAIL BEFORE YOU GET THERE. I know your grown kids set up your computer for you, but those kids are not with you now. Find someone who will teach you about the Internets BEFORE you leave for Italy.
Italians are not fond of lines, but they know exactly who is next. You’re going to have to go with the flow on this one, because you’re not going to change them. If you feel that someone is jostling you, look around you for a sympathetic person and roll your eyes with them, so they will come to your aid if someone gets really out of hand.
A good phrase for when someone cuts in line is, simply, and spelled as they would spell it if it was a word, “aho.” This is pronounced almost like “ohw,” but how Tony Soprano would say it. You’re going to feel like you’re imitating a mobster, but Italians really do say this.
This will be a hard one to explain, because there are no words. But this is a secret I learned and it’s done wonders for my relaxation and comfort.
If you’re approached by someone selling something and you don’t want what they’re hawking, shake your head “no,” make a “tisk” sound, and shake your finger. Like you’re telling a four year-old not to throw their Cheerios on the floor. If you say, “no, grazie,” they will still offer their wares. If you do exactly what I said, they will walk away.
Don’t ask me why. It just works.
If you’re swarmed by a pack of gypsy children and their breastfeeding mothers, a hearty NO with a wide backhand motion will make them scatter.
When you’re on a sweltering bus that’s going nowhere and more and more people crowd on, a quiet “che palle” (kay-pahl-ay) will suffice. Italians have no problem piling in like sardines, and no one will give you the normal American-size personal space bubble you desire. Deal with it and know your stop will come soon.
If you’re speaking to someone your age or younger and you have no idea what they’re saying, you can say, “non capisco un cazz’.” (known-cah-peesk-oon-cahtz) This is crude, but if you can pull it off with a self-deprecating smile, you’re in like Flynn.
Who is Flynn, anyway?