Italiano on the Move: A Guide to Essential Travel Phrases
This year, as the effects of COVID-19 and related countermeasures seem gradually fading, Italy is seeing a tremendous increase in bookings and reservations. People from all over the world look anxious to immerse themselves in the richness of Italian culture, enjoy its delectable cuisine, and embrace the linguistic appeal of the Italian language.
If you are visiting Italy for your summer holidays and want to avoid embarrassing situations, we have what you’re looking for: a short survival guide to the most useful words and phrases for traveling in Italy.
Especially if you are a beginner and know little of the Italian language, these expressions will enhance your Italian experience, whether you’re getting a gelato, requesting directions, or simply striking up a casual discussion. Let’s get started with Italiano on the Move and prepare to dazzle the locals!
Even if you are a beginner, there are two fundamental aspects you need to consider: pronunciation and formality. Intelligibility is definitely a feature that is necessary for your spoken Italian to be practical! When spelling your first buongiorno please try to do better than Brad Pitt in the infamous scene of Inglorious Basterds! Secondly, Italians tend to be relatively easygoing. Still, they can certainly appreciate a choice of words and pronouns (tu for informal occasions and lei for formal ones) that is adequate for the event. When greeting in Italian, be aware of the time in which your interaction is set:
buongiorno is “good morning”
while buonasera is “good evening”.
The context is also paramount: the famous ciao can only be used in informal settings and rarely with strangers if you don’t want to sound horribly rude, while salve is a more elegant and formal alternative.
Also, when replying to a greeting, be aware that Italian is not English and that translating “and you” is not a good strategy – use anche a te/lei instead!
2. Ordering food and beverages
Assumed that you are familiar with Italian cuisine and the structure of an Italian menu, let’s go grab something to eat! Formality here shouldn’t be a concern, as it is understood that you will address the bar or restaurant staff as you would with a stranger. Just remember to use scusi rather than scusa when asking for attention
and then roll on with some very common and very neutral expressions to order (vorrei una pizza, grazie; per me una birra, grazie)
ask for more (posso avere ancora vino?)
or for the bill (posso avere il conto? Grazie!).
Booking a table in Italian is a little more complex, as it requires more interaction and, at least, the knowledge of numbers in Italian. On example for an opening line would be: Buonasera, vorrei prenotare un tavolo per tre persone per le ore venti.
Finally, please, please, please, try not to mispronounce grazie and give justice to that mistreated e at the end of the word!
3. Asking for directions
Again, formality here is a must, unless you ask someone you know. When asking for directions in Italian, it is generally expected to first apologize for the disturbance (mi scusi or scusi il disturbo).
Then you are allowed to ask your question (dove si trova il Colosseo/la stazione/il ristorante Aurelio?):
Finally, after receiving the desired answer, you are supposed to give thanks (grazie/la ringrazio).
The same goes when asking for departure times (scusi, a che ora parte il treno per Napoli?) or the start time of an event (scusi, a che ora inizia il concerto/il film?).
Always keeping in mind the magic words scusi and grazie, there are some fixed expressions you can use when shopping and haggling in Italian, like quanto costa? (“how much is it?”), posso provarlo? (“can I try it?”) or posso avere uno sconto? (“can I get a discount?”).
When you’re convinced, you can inform the clerk: mi sta bene (“it fits me!”) or lo prendo (“I’ll take it!”).
5. Emergencies and fundamental medical terminology
While we wish you a safe and enjoyable journey, being ready for unexpected events is crucial. Learn how to ask for assistance by using expressions like dov’è l’ospedale più vicino? (“where’s the nearest hospital?”) and mi serve aiuto (“I need help”).
If you need to describe your condition, some generic expressions such as ho la febbre, (“I have a fever”) mi fa male il braccio (“my arm hurts”) or ho mal di stomaco (“I have a stomach ache”) might come at hand.
Clearly, the more Italian words you use to describe body parts you know, the better. Just remember that we use the verb avere (ho) for conditions and mi fa male when it comes to pain.
6. Bonus: non capisco!
As mentioned, almost all of these fixed sentences require some degree of interaction. For beginners, this might result in a particularly tricky endeavor, as even the most accommodating Italian speaker could be unable to control the velocity of their speech. In this case, you can ask the speaker to speak slower, per favore, parli più piano or simply inform them that you don’t understand, mi dispiace, non capisco.
With the help of this glossary of key Italian phrases, you can feel more comfortable and at ease while traveling in Italy. Pack your luggage, practice your Ciao! smile, and be ready to discover Italy’s beauty one word at a time. Buon viaggio!