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Rick Steves’ Europe: Communicating in Italy

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Instead of asking, “Are you listening?” an Italian will ask, “Do you sense me?”

One of the best ways to observe Italians communicating — and to communicate with them — is to participate in the passeggiata. This ritual promenade takes place in the early evenings, when shoppers, families, and young flirts on the prowl all join the scene to stroll arm in arm, spreading their colorful feathers like peacocks. In a genteel small town, the passeggiata comes with sweet whispers of “bella” (pretty) and “bello” (handsome). In Rome, the passeggiata is a cruder, big-city version called the struscio (meaning “to rub”). Younger participants utter the words “buona” and “buono” — meaning, roughly, “tasty.” As my Italian friends explained, “Bella is a woman you admire — without touching. Buona is something you want, something...consumable. Bella is too kind for this struscio.”

To really immerse yourself in the culture, it’s important to take risks in conversation. Italians appreciate your attempts. Miscommunication can happen on both sides, but it’s part of the fun.

One night my waiter declared in English, “The cook is in the chicken.” Later, when I ordered a tonic water, he asked me, “You want lice?”

On another trip I was eating at a restaurant in Assisi with a guide named Giuseppe and his wife, Anna. Anna greeted each plate with unbridled enthusiasm. Suddenly, Giuseppe looked at me and said in English, “My wife’s a good fork.”

Shocked, I thought I must have misheard him.

 

Giuseppe explained, “Una buona forchetta...a good fork. That’s what we call someone who loves to eat.”

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(Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European guidebooks, hosts travel shows on public TV and radio, and organizes European tours. This article was adapted from his new book, For the Love of Europe. You can email Rick at rick@ricksteves.com and follow his blog on Facebook.)

©2021 Rick Steves. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(c)2021 RICK STEVES DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

 

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