For such a passionate people, Italians don’t often say, “I love you.”
The literal translation for “I love you” – ti amo – is reserved only for your mostest dearest sweetheart, and only after a considerable length of time and (usually) a great deal of intimacy. Best friends, siblings, parents, and everyone else you have strong feelings for get a ti voglio* bene – literally, “I want well for you,” or “I wish you well.”
Now that you know this, you’ll notice it more in the graffiti that seems to cover every inch of Rome. It will either be written out, or in its popular acronym – TVB. Another one you’ll see is TVTB – ti voglio tanto bene. It’s stronger and the precursor to ti amo. My favorite one, though, I most often notice among teenage girls – ti voglio tantissimo bene. I wish you the very best in the whole wide world. It’s like the Italian version of BFF, or best friends forever.
Speaking of graffiti and love, keep your eyes on the streets in the more residential neighborhoods – this seems to be where the highest concentration of the strongest declarations of love are spray painted on the streets, usually facing the front door of an apartment building. Walk around San Lorenzo, Pigneto or Casilina long enough and you’ll see a large AUGURI!!!!! (for birthdays), or a DAMIANO TI AMO X** SEMPRE, or a MARIELA TU 6*** IL MIO GIRASOLE TI AMO!!!!!!, or other similarly flowery sentiments.
To like someone or something requires one of those grammatical brain teasers that is infuriating to English speakers. Mi piace – I like it – literally translates to, it pleases me. Reflexive, it that called? I don’t know. It sucks and confuses me. So, to say “I like you” is mi piaci, and we’ll leave it at that.
*Have you forgotten my pronunciation guides already? Voglio is pronounced VOL-yo.
** “X” means per, which means “for,” and is also the symbol for multiplication – saying “three times four” in Italian, you’d say, “tre per quatro.” In the above, X sempre means forever.
***Sei, “you are,” and sei, “six,” are one of the rare homographs/homophones in Italian.