Thankfully I am now at a stage with the Italian language where I’m not constantly translating words and phrases via Google translate. Though certainly not fluent, or even at an advanced level, I feel confident enough to get by and even make casual conversations. But I still remember those first few weeks of panic when faced with a normally basic task. Going to the shops, getting the bus into town, and pretty much everything that involved communication outside the house became a fretfully anticipated event that I would need to prepare myself for. Whilst it is true that in the tourist centres of Italy (Rome, Milan, Florence), the majority of cashiers and waiters will speak some English, there are plenty of other areas (my village by Lake Garda, for instance), where using English will return only blank looks. And besides their understanding of English, doesn’t it feel more like a holiday when you embarrass yourself by struggling with the native language? A childhood memory of my dad struggling to translate ‘happy meal’ into French springs to mind (turns out they say it the same. And the server spoke perfect English anyway). Of course, it takes time to learn a language, time that is not always available for your week long getaway – or in my case when I needed to find my way to a nearby city via public transport the next day. Well have no fear: during my first few weeks here I had soon memorized a few crucial phrases to see me through most situations, and I am now passing them on to you. You might not be one of the locals, but at least you can order your pizza and coffee.
1. Ciao (pronounced “chow”) – hi / goodbye.
That’s right, they use the same word for both greetings, which is a handy feature for tourists as it’s less words to remember! While it’s not usually used in formal situations, being replaced by “salve” “boungiorno” or “buona sera”, as a tourist it is perfectly acceptable. Italians also love repeating words, ciao being a primary example when used for saying goodbye. It sounds like lovers trying to put the phone down “Ciao. Ciao ciao…ciao. Ciao.” At first I found it funny, but now I struggle to say it only once – it’s a damn catchy word.
2.Vorrei (“vore-ay) – I would like.
This is the perfect word to memorise for anything food or drink related; “vorrei un cappuccino”, “vorrei in brioche”, or simply “vorrei…” and directing to the menu item. Now you don’t have to be sweating it when you’re craving that caffeine kick but don’t know how to approach the bar!
3. Posso prendere / posso avere (“posso pren-dare-ay” / “av-air-ay”) – can I get / can I have.
A more informal version of the above, but what I love about these phrases is that they can he used for almost everything else: buying public transport tickets, shopping, and going to the market. I am sure I overused “posso prendere”, but it got me through all situations, and I hope it can do the same for you.
4. Scusi, sono inglese, non parlo italiano (inglese pronounced “in-glay-say”) – sorry, I’m English, I don’t speak Italian.
For those times when you’re broken attempts are receiving only blank looks, and you must simply hope that the other person can speak enough English to save you, or at least sell you those train tickets. It can also be useful to get out of certain situations. For instance, if you’re in a city there will likely be people willing to trick you out of your money, but if they realise you don’t understand them they might give up. Though be warned that this doesn’t always work: some target tourists so may know English for their cause.
5. Tu parli inglese (“too parlee in-glay-say”)? – do you speak English?
As with the above, perfect for when you must rely on the cashier’s / ticket man’s / waiter’s knowledge of English.
6. Grazie (“grat-see”) – thank you. Because manners should never be overlooked, especially when someone serves you up some delicious pasta pesto (if you don’t try this while staying in Italy you’re missing out).