Italian For Tourists: Advanced Guide

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?


7 thoughts on “Italian For Tourists: Advanced Guide

  1. Very nice piece.

    Cutting in lines (or queue jumping as we Englishers would say) is still one of the most enfuriating aspects of life in Italy – I’ll try my Sopranos voice next time it happens.

    My cousin came to visit me and hit a gypsy kid who was pestering him outside a church! Your non violent solution is assertive but more humane.

  2. flynn would be errol flynn. the man who could charm his way in between any woman’s legs. or so they say.

    useful advice, as always.

    and: i have some pictures to email you soon.

  3. Ha! I figured it was Errol, but it occurred to me there might be a good chance that it was some sort of old Irish saying.


  4. Well….I have lived in Italy for 13 years and I believe at least half of the tips you gave in here would probably cause your readers some trouble as some of them are considered “low-class behaviour” and some others are simply blatantly rude. I suggest you don’t use “aho” anywhere in the North of the country unless you want to be regarded as some sort of peasant or even aggressive.
    About the language, a quiet “che palle” would make anybody look like a boor as it refers to testicles and, though acceptable in familiar language, is most certainly not the best thing to mutter when surronded by strangers. As for “non capisco un cazzo” (i don’t understand “a dick”) that should be used only between close friends as it’s the equivalent of the English “I don’t F***ing understand anything”. “Permesso” is used by many people when entering somebody’e house but if you said it when entering a shop it would sound ironic…more or less like “This place is so empty that I’m not sure I can come in”. I live in Milan and, in my experience, Italians are not always as hot blooded and outgoing as one might expect so sounding rude or disrespectful might put you in a bad light.

  5. Andrew, thank you for your reply. My guides, and in fact my entire blog, is only based on my own experiences while living in Rome. I think you are 100% right – the snobs in Milano would have no idea what kind of idiot I was if I spoke like this. That’s why I don’t go!

  6. Miss Expatria,

    I’d suggest you keep your opinions (e.g. “snob people in Milan”) for yourself. I think that you could be more helpful to foreigners if you actually provided some useful language expressions that wouldn’t cause them to get into troubles or be regarded as rude retards. I agree with the suggestions given by Andrew – those are real useful tips — yours? I will spare you opinion on them.

    Try not to insult people in your host country as you really are merely a guest and quite frankly we’d be happy with you there or without you!

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