Posts Tagged ‘Speaking Italian’

Ciao, Buongiorno & More: Italian Greetings Guide

Monday, July 7th, 2014

If you’ve been to Italy, you’re no doubt already acquainted with the simultaneously charming and confusing fact that greetings in Italy vary so widely by time of day and relationship that you might find yourself hearing over a dozen variations in one day!

Italians do not expect foreigners to have these down perfectly, of course, but they will be highly impressed if you get them spot on. It’s a great way to start a relationship, whether with your tour guide, a shop keeper, or hotel concierge, even if the conversation continues in English.

Formality First: Formal Italian Greetings

Italian has an entirely separate pronoun for the second person (you) when you want to be formal (Lei) than when you want to be casual (tu). So it makes sense that one of the biggest dividing lines between Italian greetings is the level of formality.

When you are meeting for the first time, the person is in a position of authority, or it is a one-off conversation like you may have trying to buy a train ticket, you should always stick a formal greeting.

The easiest formal greeting, which you can use at any time of day or in any situation is “salve,” which translates roughly as something akin to “salutations,” even though that is very old-fashioned and out of use in English today.

“Salve” can be a tad to formal for many situations, so the best thing to do is learn the different “good day”-style greetings for each time of day:

  • “buongiorno” can be used from morning until after lunch
  • “buona sera,” which literally means “good evening,” can be used all afternoon and evening, though in some areas, it is more correct to say “buon pomeriggio” (literally good afternoon) until dinner time

”How’s it going?” And Other Casual Greetings

The ubiquitous “ciao,” which has now extended past Italian boarders not only to occasional appearances in the U.S., but also a common role in German, Spanish, and other European conversations, is best reserved for friends and closer aquaintances.

Even in those cases, however, it’s usually followed with some variety of how are you:

  • “come sta?” (formal)
  • “come stai?” (informal)
  • “come va?” (very informal)

Italian Travel Apps for Every Situation

Friday, September 20th, 2013

I’m getting ready to head to Italy twice next month, first to the Buy Veneto show and then for two weeks of research in Piedmont, Tuscany, and Rome.

Though I’m familiar with Katie Parla’s stunning Rome app (photo above), I’ve never had a chance to look into the increasingly wide world of  travel apps. But the landscape has changed significantly from the early Italian travel apps, which were little more than shrunken guidebooks.

Today your phone can ask questions for you in Italian or provide a whole set of situation specific vocabulary all while offline. You can find out if the train is on time and translate menus just by snapping a picture with your phone.

Some of these apps are iPhone only, but many are available for a variety of operating systems, including Android and Windows mobile.

Apps that Help You Navigate Italy

  • Word Lens – snap a picture of an Italian word on a sign, menu, or reservation and the app translates it
  • Rail Europe – browse schedules, buy train tickets, and find information on luggage storage and other train station services
  • Pronto Treno – connecting to the Italian national rail network, this app allows you to check whether your train is on time and whether there’s an upcoming strike scheduled
  • Italo Treno – with information on the newest high speed train system that links major cities in Italy

Italian Language Apps

  • The Lonely Planet Phrasebook – type in a phrase in English and the app translates and speaks the phrase for you in Italian
  • Talking Italian Phrasebook – sponsored by the Fiat 500, this app allows you to search by category to find the vocab for the situation you need, whether shopping, checking into your hotel, or getting directions
  • WorldNomads Italian-English Translator – prepared phrases available offline that allow you to practice your budding Italian in any travel situation

City/Region Specific Apps

  • Tuscany for Foodies – recommended by SlowItaly, this app catalogs the culinary artisans of Tuscany that keep ancient traditions alive and the restaurants that serve their food
  • Rick Steves’ Ancient Rome Tour – an interactive guide with audio and video to help create your own walking tour of Rome’s ancient sites
  • Katie Parla’s Rome – an elegant, well-styled compendium of impeccably curated picks for eating, shopping, and exploring Rome
  • Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome - highlighting all the good stuff in Italy. Elizabeth has apps for Rome, Florence and Venice, plus her instagram sends are a glimpse of what we are missing daily

Italian Food Apps

  • Foodies by Gambero Rosso – from the publisher of the Italian equivalent of the French Michelin guide, Gambero Rosso’s comprehensive listing of the best eateries—from pizzarias to gourmet temples—includes GoogleMaps directions and itineraries
  • Italian Menu Decoder – a food-focused dictionary that includes nearly every ingredient, dish, and food festival you’ll come across in Italy, no matter where in the country you are
  • Olive Oil IQ – a guide to the differences between olive oil varieties and uses in different parts of Italy, as well as background on olive oil history and production

Italian Language-Learn some before you go

Friday, July 1st, 2011


Why it is that traveling Americans are always so dreadful.” Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis


We cannot dispute the fact that America is known as a force in the world, both economically and for our military. We are loved and despised for our social freedoms, admired for the opportunity given to each and every citizen to have a chance to pursue his/her dream. It is no wonder why so many foreigners want to come and live here. Look at our borders. Daily people risk their life to get here. That position was one I had heard time and again from my well traveled parents in the 50’s and 60’s. And is still applicable today for some cultures. But is it applicable to Italians? Do other Italians still envy the USA so much that they all want to become American? There has been a change in attitude over the past thirty years with regard to our culture. The whole world no longer envies us as they once did. As a conscientious traveler, we must ask ourselves what brought on the change? One reason is that Italy has changed. The quality of life has improved dramatically in western European countries since WWII. Life is much better now for Western Europeans and therefore many are less likely to want to leave.

VIGNETTE: I was sitting in the piazza in Portofino with another Italian guide waiting for our group to gather. Many, many groups entered the piazza in Portofino during a day. “See that group?” I was asked by my colleague, “yes.” “They are American.” “How can you tell?” “Well, all the other groups come to the piazza and view it from the side, but this group came into the very middle of the piazza and claimed the entire center, as if they intended to conquer it.”. Do they still love us? Yes, they do. Do they want to move to the USA? No, they don’t.


They do not like to work and have a lot of holidays. Great food and bad government. They drink a lot of wine They seem to have a lot of strikes. They live with their mothers. They adore the Madonna. They dress well and pose. They are all in the mafia.

HOW TO RELATE TO PEOPLE-Italian Style In a fast moving world, I believe we have forgotten how to communicate with real people. We email, phone and Skype. It is no longer necessary to look people in the eyes when conducting our daily transactions. Italian Style- is all about how you treat people. It is about maintaining the human element throughout our daily lives. Courtesy. Look directly in the eye, and acknowledge whomever you are speaking with. Take your time and begin with small talk first. The actual reason for your visit is secondary and comes after the social graces have been satisfied. Remember: People first, then business.

VIGNETTE: I had an encounter with an Italian shop keeper. Her comment, “I see you speak some Italian, may I ask why is it that Americans never look us in the eye or acknowledge us when they enter our store? We feel badly that they do not acknowledge us. Is it because you have grande magazzini (big warehouses) and you do not need to speak with anyone? Or is it because you think you are better than everyone else?” When visiting an artisan or food producer, be mindful when you schedule the appointment, to allow enough time. As Americans we are known as “Sempre in Fretta” Always in a hurry. The visit will take as long as it takes. More often than not, the host will offer you something to eat or drink or perhaps even a small gift as a positive memory “Ricordo” of the experience. This happens all over Italy. Try to not rush off.

GREETINGS: Learn a little Italian; it will go a long way. This is not a language book. But you cannot expect to travel around Italy using only English. Americans all to often begin encounters in English. You need a few basic words of Italian to make your experience more rewarding. We want to be better travelers. We want to be respectful and savvy about the country we are going to. Then give it a go, and try to speak the language!

Italian Alphabet: 21 letters No J, K, X, Y, W

Lesson # one. Our culture has lost all formality in our use of English. We say “ Hi, how ya doin’? To everybody without ever stopping to listen to the answer. Romance languages are more formal and will address different people within the society respectfully based on the intimacy or lack thereof in the relationship. Your greeting sets the tone of the interaction.

Don’t use “ciao” unless you know the person well. We all know the word and may even use it in the USA. “Ciao” is a very informal greeting meaning hello or goodbye. It is used when greeting people you know well; family, peers, or to greet small children and dogs. Remember: It is okay to kiss, (both cheeks) men and women.

Please learn and use at least two of the following:

Buon Giorno- Good Day

Buona Sera- Good Afternoon (begins around 16:00 ish)

Buona Notte- Good Night (final salutation when going to bed)

ArriverderLa. – Good bye to you (Formal) Arriverderci. – Good bye to you (Plural/informal)

Buona Giornata- Have a good day! Salve`- Health (Old trail greeting-informal)


Scusi- Excuse Me

Prego You are welcome

Mi dispiace- I am sorry

Lei Parla inglese?- Do you speak English?

Non parlo l’Italiano I do not speak Italian.

Grazie Hear me… Three syllables Grah-ts’-yeh NOT Gra-z!!!

And if you like what you’ve been reading, like us on Conde Nast Traveler’s Travel Specialists List, where I’ve appeared for the last four years straight.

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