Learning local slang is one of the most fun parts of traveling. It provides insight into the culture and personality of a place, and it allows you to connect with local people. Even if you’re not fluent in a language, learning a few words and phrases can open the door to conversation, and native speakers will always appreciate your effort to traverse the language barrier.
Here some phrases that can help you experience la dolce vita during your trip to Italy.
What It Means: “Hey”, an informal greeting that you’re likely to hear on a daily basis. Pronounced like “Ah-ooo”. The “o” is sometimes drawn out for emphasis.
What It Means: Fans of the Netflix show Master of None will recognize this one. It’s a filler word, similar to “um” or “so”, when you’re pausing to think.
What It Means: Just like it sounds in English—an exclamation that can be used to express amazement, disbelief, etc. You might feel inspired to say it when you see the stunning view of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Phrase: Amore a prima vista
What It Means: “Love at first sight”—a phrase that describes the passion of Romeo and Juliet in Verona, or how you’ll feel when you catch your first glimpse of a Tuscan vineyard.
What It Means: “Enough”; it can be repeated “Basta, basta” to say “stop” or “enough is enough”. You can use this phrase when you’ve had your fill of Italian wine, Renaissance art, shopping, or delicious food (if you ever hit that point).
What It Means: An informal greeting that can replace “ciao” or “buongiorno”. You might hear it combined with Ahó—“Ahó bella!”
What It Means: “I don’t know” or “meh”. It can either be used to express indecision, lack of knowledge, or disinterest.
Phrase: Che figata!
What It Means: “How cool!” What you’ll probably say the first time you see the towering Statue of David or the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person.
Phrase: Come il cacio sui maccheroni
What It Means: “Perfect solution!” This phrase literally translates to “like sheep’s milk for the macaroni” and is something like the English phrase “Just what the doctor ordered”. Try it out when you take your first bite of pizza, every time you order one.
What It Means: “Come on!” Use it when you want someone to join in or tag along. For example, when you meet a friendly local and ask them to join your group for dinner or drinks. Or when you’re eager to get to the Colosseum and your travel partner keeps getting distracted by the sights and sounds of Rome.
What It Means: “No big deal” or “don’t worry about it”. If you accidentally drop your gelato on the ground, just say “Figurati” and head back to the gelateria.
Phrase: Fuori come un balcone
What It Means: This phrase is to used say someone is crazy, “out of their mind”, or even drunk. It literally translates to “outside like a balcony”—it’s sort of the Italian equivalent of saying that someone has “lost their marbles”.
What It Means: “Maybe” or “If only!” As in, “Are you planning on moving to Italy?” “Magari!”
Phrase: Meno male
What It Means: “Phew” or “Thank God!” If you think the shop has run out of sfogliatella, but then you see them pull a fresh tray out of the oven, you could use this phrase to express your relief.
Phrase: Na cifra
What It Means: “A lot”, especially in context of price. If someone asks how much a piece of jewelry cost, you could say “Na cifra” (but the purchase was definitely worth it).
Phrase: Non fai scumbari
What It Means: “Stop embarrassing me”; you might overhear this phrase said between a local married couple or by a child to their parents.
What It Means: An afternoon nap. When you’re laying on the beach in Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast after a hearty lunch, you might want to catch a quick “pisolino”.
What It Means: “Are you getting off (the train or bus)?” You might be asked this question if you’re standing near the exit door on public transportation.
Phrase: Tutto sale e pepe
What It Means: “All salt & pepper” If someone as described as tutto sale e pepe, it means that they’re sunny, happy, and generally fun to be around. (Good personality goals, no?)