I’m not sure Tim and I are becoming any more fluent in Italian than when we left, but there are some things we’re beginning to understand. It’s more about how they speak and what they mean by it, rather than literal translations into English (or ‘Merican).
To give you some idea, here are a few things we’ve learned that our fabulous Italian tutor left out of our lessons:
This is the most common word in Italian. It is pronounced a-lllooorr-a, often with a deep sigh at either end. If you look it up, it means “then”. Then?? You order a caffe latte and don’t have the right change, allora. You ask your accountant if you need to pay taxes today, allora. You ask to see something in the shop in a different color, allora. And then they proceed to give you or tell you or get you exactly what you wanted. It’s kind of a spacer between “of course” and “I don’t really have time today.” But it definitely doesn’t mean “then”.
Non è un problema
I think this is the same in Spanish (and Japanese, and Hungarian, and Irish). It means there definitely IS a problem – it could be anything, but it will cost/delay/not work, no matter what it is.
This is a corollary phrase. It means whatever it is can’t be done right now, or the way you want, or without a lot more paperwork. It probably can be done, but you will be here for several more hours before you’ll know. And you’ll learn a lot more Italian while you’re here.
You know what this word means, but saying it correctly takes some practice. You don’t just say “bye” to someone. You say “bye, bye, bye, bye”. (It’s easier to do in Italian. Try it.) Oh, and Italians love saying “bye” after we say ciao. Makes them feel very hip.
These things happen
Yes, I know that’s English. But spoken by an Italian in a deadpan tone of voice, it means that they know you did something wrong, but who’s going to tell? Certainly not me. It’s kind of like Tim’s favorite saying: “It was like that when I got here.”
Okay, enough of that. We love Italians and they love trying out their English on us. It is true that very few outside of the tourist towns speak English. But they all love to try, and once you can get un piccolo English word out of them, you’re off to the races. But speak piano, piano, which means slow.