When travelling or staying abroad, striking up a conversation with locals can sometimes be quite challenging. You may find yourself feeling frustrated or anxious when attempting to communicate the simplest things. Many tourists and expats – and locals alike – are known to lose their temper once in a while on account of the communication gap.
In Italy, it is quite easy to get by without speaking much Italian, especially in the major cities like Rome, Milan and Venice. The staff at most hotels, restaurants, transportation services, and shops are proficient in English. But communication difficulties may occur when travelling to the rural regions or the smaller cities of the country.It is always a big advantage (besides being quite rewarding) to be able to communicate effectively with the locals, even if it’s with just a few words and phrases. Here are some tips to help you sharpen your communication skills when in Italy.
Learn some key Italian words and phrases
• At a restaurant, it’s polite to wait for someone to lead you to your table. All you need to do is to ask Un tavolo per uno/due/tre/quattro/cinque? This translates to “A table for one/two/three/four/five?”
• You say Per favore (please), when asking for something. This is used mostly in a formal manner, such as when speaking to someone senior or someone you are meeting for the first time. It is also quite common to say Per piacere or Per cortesia. Prego is also used to say “please” – for instance, when letting someone go in before you, you would say Prego, as in “After you”.
• Grazie means “Thank you”.
• Quanto costa is helpful while shopping. It means “What does it cost?”
• When bidding farewell, Italians say Arrivederci, which actually translates to “We’ll see each other again.” This is the polite way to say goodbye.
• A dopo means “See you later,” and A presto means “See you soon”.
• You’re bound to hear many locals use the word Bella or Bello. It means beautiful. In fact it is quite common to greet someone you know by saying Ciao bella when greeting women, and Ciao bello for men. When greeting someone who is an acquaintance, it is best to use Buongiorno during the day and Buona sera in the evenings. A more formal salve may be used for official or business-related acquaintances.
Follow the rules of Italian etiquette
Apart from verbal communication, there are also other methods of interaction, which, when done right, can make a good impression on locals. It is also a way of respecting and appreciating the culture of the people.
• Italians are quite formal with their table manners. They usually do not share food from their plates, and in restaurants it is especially appreciated when you are polite with your waiter.
• Waiters generally do not give you your bill unless you have requested for it. So, once you are done with your meal, say Il conto to ask for your check.
• In Italy, wine and other alcoholic beverages are had as part of meals. It is not really common to only sip cocktails or beers.
• If you are invited to an Italian’s home for a meal, it is polite to take a gift in the form of a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, or flowers for the hostess.
• Avoid comparing regions in Italy when talking to locals. There are strong regional sensibilities, and many locals can be quite sensitive about them.
• It is important to be punctual for business appointments. Business lunches and dinners are not so common, as Italians prefer to use mealtimes for relaxation and pleasure.
• It is appropriate for men and women to wear business suits and to carry their business cards on them. It is advisable to avoid using first names or casual forms of address unless you are invited to do so.
• It’s not very common to give business gifts, but if you want to do so, it is best to present a small gift that is symbolic of the nature of your business or your home country.
Italians are proud of their cultural achievements and lay great emphasis on familial and personal relations. One of the best ways to communicate with them is to be mindful of this.