As in most countries, locals can usually get by a bit with English alone; however, it shows great respect and honor for the people when visitors make an attempt to learn at least a few phrases of the home language, along with the pieces of culture that go along with it!
Buonjiorno / Ciao
There are several ways to say "Hello!" in Italy! It is important to know the different greetings, and when it is customary to use each. These are very used throughout the country in different settings; when you walk into a cafe, pass someone on the street, or greet someone in their home!
The first important greeting for visitors to know is "Ciao!" "Ciao" may be a way to say "goodbye", but it is also used very commonly as an informal "hello." Ciao is a greeting travelers will use and hear often throughout Italy.
"Buongiorno!" is a greeting like "good morning!" often used for one's arrival. This is a great phrase to say earlier in the day when headed to the café for some caffé! "Buonasera" can be used later in the day, typically after 4 pm as a way to say "good evening" upon arrival somewhere.
Grazie, Prego, & More
"Grazie" is how one says "thank you." It is for general use when someone delivers a meal or holds open a door for you. "Prego" is a way that people will say "you're welcome," and is also used to say "if you please." It will often be said when holding the door for someone or passing over a shopping bag, etc. "Per favore" is typically how one will say "please," when asking for something.
Riposo - Rest
"Riposo" is not a phrase travelers will use very often, but it is a part of the culture tourists should be familiar with. On any given day, around noon, tourists will find that most every store in Italy has a sign outside reading: "Chiuso" - this means "closed."
During the hottest hours of the afternoon, Italians close up shop to enjoy what is known widely as "riposo" - meaning, "rest." Italians take this time to eat a large meal with their family, take a good nap, or catch up on other small tasks around the shop. Tourists are invited to use this time as well for "riposo," and won't have many options otherwise as so many places are closed down.
One of the most important phrases anyone can know, anywhere they go, is "do you speak English?" This will tell a traveler right away if the merchant or passer-byer can be of special help to them. "Parla Inglese?" is a way to find out quickly if an Italian can converse with you in English. Though they may be a bit shy at first to give it a try and may say something like "Piccolo" (or, "only a little"), Italians often enjoy getting a chance to practice their English and to help a traveler.
Merenda / Cibo
Ordering food is one of the most important parts of living in, or visiting, Italy. It is important to know at least a bit of the nuance and culture surrounding this central part of Italian life.
- Merenda - Italians eat dinner late! For this reason, it is important to familiarize yourself with "merenda." Merenda is afternoon snacking. It is a great time to enjoy an Aperol spritz and some light snacks while reading a book on a lovely Italian patio.
- When it is finally dinner time, Italians divide this meal up into three courses, along with sides and Dolci (desserts). The Courses:
- "Antipasta" - Appetizers
- "Primo" - Pasta or Rice
- "Secondi" - Meats (Typically beef or fish)
Escusa / Permesso
The bustling streets of Italian cities can be quite narrow. It can be important for travelers to know a few ways to politely get through, so as not to look rude or arrogant. While in many countries, "escusa" means "excuse me" in that sense, in Italy, that holds more of a meaning to get someone's attention. Instead, people will say "permesso." This literally means "permission to stay," but is the polite way to get past someone in a crowded place.
Dolce far niente
Italians have mastered many things, and one of the greatest things any visitor can walk away with is "dolce far niente." This quite literally means, "the sweetness of doing nothing." With riposo every day, leisurely mealtimes at any restaurant, and a month of rest in the summers, travelers are likely to glean a great understanding of this sweetness during their time in Italy. It can be difficult for travelers to cultivate this art of doing nothing, but after spending some time in Italy around the food, the family, and the culture, it is hard not to take away some inspiring tips on how to slow down and to enjoy life more fully.
If you are looking to dive deeper into the Italian dialect, there are many great tips to learn a language.