I bet that one of the main reasons most of you guys are in love with Italy (and studying Italian language) is your attraction for Italian food, and you are damn right about that! With such an amazing variety of ingredients and dishes, Italian cuisine is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet and part of the world cultural heritage! Despite being worldly renown, though, a traditional Italian meal has a structure that many of our Italian language students (especially the ones coming from the far east) find puzzling. For many of those who approach Italian cuisine and are used to meals based on a single dish, the distinction between primo and secondo might seem useless and confusing, and the fact that an Italian lunch (or dinner) is often divided in 3 or more dishes can give the impression of an unnecessary generous meal. Now, we do not expect to turn you into a three-stars chef or teach you everything our nonna told us about Italian food, but we really hope this brand new infographic, Il menù in italiano, will help you sorting out some useful information you can use during you next pranzo!
As every grandma uses to say, "breakfast is the most important meal of all". And that is indeed true, especially if you consider that generally it helps your body recovering from a night of fasting! So what's the deal with Italian breakfast?
From a country whose diet is renowned worldwide, with an outstanding variety of ingredients and a cookbook stuffed with delicious recipes, you would expect excellence even when it comes to the first meal of the day. Yet, breakfast in Italy is very different from what many expats and Italian language students would expect, as it is usually a very fast and light meal, the mainstay being a cappuccino or an espresso accompanied by some pastries (cornetti) and, occasionally, corn flakes and cereals (fiocchi d'avena e cereali). In a regular Italian breakfast there is no room for cheese, eggs, beans or bacon, and actually most Italians tend to consider the idea of having a "salty breakfast" (or eating anything salted before midday) quite disgusting.
Even in Italy, of course, you will be able to find bars, pubs and hotels which regularly serve English or American breakfast, but if you really want to get the full Italian experience, you should really try to melt in and have a quick and light Italian breakfast in a local bar, peeking at a quotidiano and catching the occasion to have a chat with Italian natives on the latest news
For all of you who want to be prepared when having your first breakfast in Italy, here's a new infographic... with a quick grammar overview about si passivante included!
The vocabulary related to human body is always one of the toughest challenges for an Italian language student, since usually this particular semantic area is full of false friends and very specific words which seem to have no relation with their Gemanic equivalents. As usual, Kappa Language School is here to help: we have prepared a brand new infographic whic will guide you through the discover of a new bit of Italian language!
Keep on learning Italian words and grammar with us and follow our blog!
The internet, we all know, has simplified our lives allowing us to communicate instantaneously covering huge distances at the speed of a click. It has also created a new, interesting paralanguage, made of little funny faces we all know under the name of emoticons (faccine in Italian internet slang), the meaning of which is universal as well as human emotions are. This, for an Italian language student, might make things very much easier, but being aware of the Italian words hidden beneath the smiley is definitely something useful. We know you're eager to start chatting in Italian with your penfriends or your Italian Language School friends, but just take a minute to check this new infographic translating for you the most common faccine in Italian!
You might be in Rome for tourism but, as a general rule, being seen by locals as a tourist is something best avoided.
Now, let's take a minute to define the word "tourist": according to the Merriam-Webster, a tourist is "one that makes a tour for pleasure or culture". Although a slight interest for local culture should be implicit in touring, the sheer meaning of the word "tourist" implies a confining sense of transience. And for a person who's really interested in getting to know Italian Language and Culture, this is something to avoid or, at least, to limit.
Our aim is to help you find your way while discovering the best of Italian Culture, at the same time experiencing Italy as a local: that is why we’ve prepared a short vademecum of things you DON'T want to do when touring, living or studying in Italy, unless you want to be considered one of the many tourists that every day pass through the Bel Paese.
Let's get down to basics: Rome (as well as Italy) is a treasure chest so full of hidden gems not even locals are able to discover them all in a lifetime. Of course, the Colosseum, S. Pietro and the Trevi Fountain (which btw is not a bathtub) are sights which are too important to miss, but why not spice up your stay in Rome a little by venturing to the almost forgotten but unimaginably important small churches, or Rome's fascinating borgate with their outstanding variety of street art masterpieces? There's a tour for everyone, if you search hard enough.
On the road & in the streets
The streets of Rome, brilliantly sang by artists such as Bob Dylan, are certainly a place of breathtaking beauty: you can find a glimpse of the glorious past of the city on every street corner, and yet the whole city is immersed in a mellow, decadent atmosphere. But once on the road, you have to learn how to watch your step, as traffic can be really wild and it's not unusual to spot packs of tourists lined up on the sidewalk, waiting for the right moment to cross the street.
Now, I'll try to put this simply: crossing the streets in Rome requires some skills. We call it "the pigeon technique" (la tattica del piccione): if you have to cross, just do it, provided there's a reasonable distance between the upcoming cars and your body. Drivers will eventually stop, especially if you are bold enough to fearlessly look into their eyes as you would do with an attacking animal. And there you go: you will be on the other side without even noticing, and actually feel more self-confident than ever. It's the law of the jungle, folks!
The same cannot be said for bikers (and bike tours): you really have to be reckless to ride a bike in the city center without the supervision of a local. Rome is simply not equipped for cycling, except for certain areas. If you really want to experience Rome on two wheels, make friends with a local and let himor her help you.
Eating & drinking
Yes, I know you came to Italy mainly for the food. Who doesn't? Even Italians travel all along the country to taste local delicacies. But remember: food in Italy is a serious matter, and Italians tend to get really bitchy about their meals (and the way you might want to experience them). Obvious advice and common sense aside (avoid tourist traps, eat local and with locals), if you really want to prevent astonished looks from the locals you should follow these simple rules:
- Cappuccino CAN NOT be the happy ending of your meal. It is something we consume strictly before 12pm, specifically for breakfast. Ordering a cappuccino at a restaurant is like buying a computer from a furniture store. The restaurateur might give you what you want, but you will break his\her heart. Do you really want that?
- Pizza in Rome is thin and provides just a limited variety of toppings. Beware of odd variants unless you are in a pizzeria which is famous among locals for its creativity.
- Never pay more than 8€ for your pizza margherita. In Italy good food can be extremely cheap: you can get a decent Italian wine for 10€ and fill yourself up with 15€ in a pizzeria (supplì included). Although you shouldn't drink wine with pizza: for that we have Peroni.
- Remember that spaghetti bolognese IS NOT A THING IN ITALY. They can literally kick you out of the restaurant, if the owner is in a bad mood.
This is a bit of a sore subject. Italians are widely known for their loose approach to PDOA, their open display of emotions and their genuineness and yet, if you really want to blend in, you should remember that Rome is not Miami nor LA, and that Romans tend to consider people going around the city in Bermudas and flip-flops as quirky but a little disturbing. Plus, as Louis CK used to say, every big city is basically a huge pile of dirt, and Rome is no exception: knowing this, do you still want to go around wearing flip-flops?
Everyone has his or her own style, but looking around you to see what locals do is always a good strategy and a matter of common sense when in a foreign country. This applies especially to Rome, the privileged destination of millions of tourists every year.
Binge drinking, in Italy, can be a thing when it comes to depressed medium-sized suburban towns, but drinking only to get pissed is really something Italians don't do - although the average age for the first sip of alcohol in Italy is approximately 6. So forget about your night out at a club downing one shot after another: if you do this in Rome, you've been caught in a tourist trap. For further information, take a look at this very instructive video. Knowledge is power. :)
And here we are, in our area of expertise. As Italian language teachers, we wouldn't dare to criticise the happy ones who try to learn and speak Italian: every effort is indeed appreciated, even if it is just an impromptu. Italian people, on the other hand, tend to be annoyed by very few and specific things, such as the mispronounciation of grazie (which is often spelled "grazy" by anglo-american speakers) or the ridicolous outcomes of expressions such as buongiorno (see picture for lulz). That said, if you really want to fit in, learning some basic expressions (and practice your pronunciation) in Italian language is definitely a good move, although in Italy you will always find someone who will be able to help you using alternative forms of communication, such as Italian hand gestures. :)
Whether you are an expat living in Italy, an Erasmus student or simply an Italian Language enthusiast, you might have had to cope with the Italian words used to describe the house, its rooms and its furniture. Some of them are quite obvious, at least for Indo-European speakers, but other can be tricky and deceiving: a tenda, in Italian, is not only used for camping, and a pensile has definitely nothing to do with drawing.
To help you find your bearings inside an Italian home, here's our new infographic: la casa in Italiano. Enjoy!
Trying to learn something about a specific culture via YouTube can be tricky and dangerous: one might end up in a Dedalus of stereotypes and misconceptions that will lead to a faulty understanding of such a complex and beautiful expression of humanity. When it comes to Italy and Italians you actually know what's coming: thousands of videos about recipes and hand gestures and some very bad joke about how Italians do things.
As usual, we're here to help: this is why our team of social media engineers has performed a deep research on your behalf, trying to spot the most interesting/genuine/disturbing videos about Italians and Italy on YouTube.
Let's start with a milestone: Peter Griffin turning into an Italian. He actually already did it in the past, and with poor but yet hilarious results. This time McFarlane & friends seem to try setting the record straight, at least linguistically: the Italian-spoken part sounds very genuine, although the whole concept of the video is based on the usual stereotypes concerning more Italian-Americans than Italian-Italians.
In the past 12 months, Buzzfeed has almost literally bombed the audience with videos of people reacting to things or people asking other people silly questions. There is though one video that we can define accurate, and it shows a bunch of young Italians trying US "snacks". Now, we know we are kinda bitchy about our food, and that might be a flaw sometimes but... how can you call those things? I mean, seriously: pink chips?
On the same page, here's a very entertaining video showing Italian nonne tasting the (in)famous Olive Garden menu. Just two observations: there are, obviously, two intruders in the video and, dear grandma, merda means literally "shit", but we know you're too polite to say that.
For the person who's writing, this subject is kinda sensitive, and I must admit that YouTube results for "Italian music" didn't fail to confirm my prejudice: the idea that the whole world has of music coming from Italy is stereotyped, outdated and somehow offensive. This, needless to say, is also (or mainly) our fault, as we like to export bright examples of musical putrescence turning them into semi-global events.
Anyway, let's take a look to these top YouTube results regarding Italian songs and music: just don't hope for the best.
Music for an Italian Dinner: seriously? Some songs in this cheesy bunch of trite hits are not even Italian. Swing and crooning are definitely NOT part of Italian musical culture.
Best Italian Songs of the decade: "best" according to who? I understand some of these are quite big names in the Italian scene, but honestly Italian rock has muchmoretooffer other than this depressing list copy-paste songs.
Fergie - Be Italian (from "Nine"): I would have gladly ignored this video if it wasn't for the stereotype of Italian kids confronting prosperous sexuality ad a very young age. Welcome to Italy, where everything is like in a Dolce&Gabbana commercial!
It turned out that Italy has actually produced some pretty famous YouTube stars and influencers. I honestly did vaguely know two of them, and as an Italian I have mixed feelings about how they export, let's say, Italian lifestyle.
Let's start with Marzia, showing up with this video in the first page of my YouTube search. She's the girlfriend of one of the most famous Youtubers in the world, Pewdiepie, and probably one the most famous italian Youtubers too. She seems like a very pretty girl and a pleasant person. I mean, I wouldn't dislike the world to think that "Italians" are this way. Btw the video is kinda fun at the beginning and then becomes boringly dumb.
Greta Menchi popped out of the YouTube world because of a controversy: she has been nominated as a member of the jury at the last Sanremo Festival, arousing the indignation of some web bullies who thought she was not skilled enough for the job (as if one needed to be skilled to take part to Sanremo...).
The great Gianluca Vacchi is an Italian mystery: self-proclaimed viveur, he is actually CEO of a big firm and apparently spends his life on a boat wearing a pareo and dancing like a tourist resort entertainer. I kinda like the guy, although his videos carry an idea of "Italianity" that doesn't exist in real life.
And here we are in my area of expertise! Fear not, I won't bore you with Italian language tips or grammar. As a proof of my good intentions, here's a small introduction:
Simply the best scene EVER about foreigners coping with Italian language.
And here it comes the weird stuff: picking up speaking Italian. Apart from the fact that the guy doesn't even speak Italian properly, this technique seems to work fine, although sometimes he seems to slip into sexual harassment.
20 Italian words you are saying wrong: about time, finally our American and British friends will understand how to pronounce grazie correctly! :D
I wouldn't even dare to comment this: it's Monty Python, therefore it's amazing by definition.
Italian Hand Gestures
Interesting topic, isn't it? Although non-verbal communication is a part of every language, Italians seem to rely on that massively: this is why an Italian language students will definitely need some guidance! YouTube is actually packed with videos illustrating Italian gestures, so help yourselves. And yes, the first video is from Dolce&Gabbana, and it's superb.
Sailing the sea of misconceptions about Italian culture I encountered two videos which seem to be encouragingly accurate, the first from an Italian Youtuber, the second from Tia, an half-Jamaican, half-Nigerian, American born girl with a lovely accent and a very fun attitude.
Yes, there are strange videos too. Like this first one, that shows Italian cops (presumably) trying out a bulletproof vest.
This is weird and I don't even know why it has so many views, especially considering that in Italy we tend not be that much into guns.
Family, in Italy, is a big deal: we all know that. This is why, for an Italian language student, wading through Italian kinship terms can be really challenging. But hey, that's exactly the reason why we're here! Check out this brand new infographic about Italian kinship terms and learn how to properly address your nonna in Italian (getting some treat in return!). :)
Want some more? Listen to the new episode of Aperitalia, entirely focused on kinship names and aggettivi possessivi, now available for download!
Although Italy is officially a work-based secular state, Italian language and culture are scattered with open references to the Judaic and Christian traditions. The Bible itself, having been the one and only source of education for centuries, seems to be a neverending source of idioms and forms of speech. Even without embracing any particular confession, we thought it would be a good idea to collect 13 of the most common idioms taken from the Book of Books.
1. Fare da capro espiatorio (to be a scapegoat).
We tried to start with an easy one since this form of speech is also present in English and in many other Indo-European languages (Benjamin Malaussene, anyone?). The expression comes directly from the Jewish tradition, mentioned in Leviticus 9:15, of sacrificing a goat as a ritual of purification during the Yom Kippur. Passing from the original meaning to the modern one of being a person unfairly blamed for some misfortune doesn’t require too much effort.
2. Essere una manna dal cielo (to be a boon).
Manna (or Mana) was an edible substance that, according to the Bible (Exodus 16:1-36 and Numbers 11:1-9) and the Quran, God provided for the Israelites during their travels in the desert. This image is so deeply rooted in the Italian language that one could actually use this expression to cheer up when something good (and yet unexpected) happens: è proprio una manna dal cielo!
3. Occhio per occhio, dente per dente (eye for an eye).
This very common expression is a direct reference to the law of retaliation (legge del taglione in Italian), the principle that a person who has injured another person is to be penalized to a similar degree. In a wider sense, this expression is used whenever one is seeking some form of revenge.
4. Seminare zizzania (to drive a wedge, to sow discord).
This one comes from the Gospel of Matthew, in which we can find the Parable of the Tares (Parabola della zizzania). Tares is actually darnel, a type of grass\weed that ruins crops, and it is used here as a metaphor for the struggle between the spiritual children of Christ (the good seeds) and the unbelievers (the tares).
5. Vendersi per un piatto di lenticchie (to sell yourself for a mess of pottage).
In the Book of Genesis 25:29-34 we find the two sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob. The latter, one day, offered his brother the sale of his birthright in exchange for a lentil soup. The expression is often used to describe the action of giving away something of profound value for goods of derisory nature.
6. Restare di sale (to be flabbergasted).
Again in the Book of Genesis 19:1-26 is told the dramatic story of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed by God for being consumed by vice and idolatry. The expression makes reference to the fate of Lot’s wife, who was told not to look back while escaping from the cities. The woman disobeyed and was turned into a pillar of salt. The idiom is currently use to express disbelief or surprise (“alla notizia, sono rimasto di sale!”).
7. Gigante dai piedi d’argilla (giant with clay feet).
This expression comes from the Book of Daniel in which the prophet tells about the dream of King Nabucodonosor: a giant statue with golden head, silver chest, bronze legs and, as a matter of fact, clay feet. Today this form of speech is a metaphor for something huge (such as a corporation or a party) which does not have steady foundations.
8. Essere il beniamino (to be the favourite).
Beniamino (Benjamin) was Jacob’s last and favourite son. Therefore, in Italian, essere un beniamino means being someone’s pupil: a very good football player can be il beniamino dei tifosi, or a famous actor can be il beniamino del pubblico and so on.
9. Niente di nuovo sotto il Sole (nothing new under the Sun).
One of the most poetic and intense books of the Old Testament, the Book of Qoelet (1:9) is responsible for this sometimes abused quote (nihil sub sole novum in latin), which is used to indicate an unchanging (and unchangeable) situation.
10. Servire due padroni (to be a two-timer).
Although brought to fame by playwright Carlo Goldoni and his Arlecchino, this expression comes from the Gospel of Luke (16:13): “One cannot serve two masters, nor two mistresses”. The meaning is clear: the idiom is used as a reference to a double-crosser, a two-timer.
11. Gettare le perle ai porci (casting pearls before swine).
We find this expression in Matthew 7:6, meaning “to give things of value to those who will not understand or appreciate it”.
12. Muoia Sansone con tutti i Filistei (let Samson die with the Philistines).
The Book of the Judges (16:18-21; 28-30) tells the story of Samson, an Israelite judge who performed feats of strength against the Philistines but was betrayed by Delilah, his mistress. Blinded by revenge, Samson decided to destroy Philistines temple with his bare hands, although he knew he would die too. The idiom is often used in reference to someone who doesn’t hesitate to harm him or herself if it helps hurting others.
13. Essere un Giuda (to be a Judas).
The figure of Judas is commonly used (not exclusively but very widely in the Italian language) to indicate a traitor. Along with his name, the expression per trenta denari (for 30 pieces of silver) indicating the amount of money earned by Judas to betray Jesus Christ, is often used.
So this was our list, but please feel free to integrate it and suggest new idioms in the comments! Amen. :D
The history of Carnevale is long and interesting, and in fact it has its roots in the ancient times, when, during, feasts like the Saturnalia in the Roman age or the Dionysia for the ancient Greeks, common people had the occasion, for just one day, to switch their social roles with the dominant class. As for the term, it directly descends from the late latin CARNE LEVAMEN, indicating the last night during which meat could be consumed before Lent. As you can see, the whole concept of Carnevale is deeply rooted in the Italian territory and Italian Language and Culture, hence the presence of a flourishing and multi-colored tradition all along the Belpaese (and its main island).
Carnevale di Acireale (Sicilia)
Not only music and parades but also delicious traditional food! All this in the stunning scenario of one of the gems of the Sicilian Barocco. Traditional mask: Abbatazzu.
Carnevale di Cento (Emilia Romagna)
Huge floats (up to 20 meters!), spectacular parades and the tradition of the gettito (basically a public giveaway of gifts and gadgets thrown from the carnival floats) are the main features of this carnival, which is also twinned with the Rio de Janeiro celebration. Traditional mask: Tasi, which is burned on the last day of celebrations.
Carnevale di Coumba Freida (Valle d'Aosta)
Held in a francophone territory, the "carnival of the cold valley" commemorates the passage of Napoleonic soldiers represented in traditional dressings and wooden masks. Traditional mask: Landzette.
Carnevale di Fano (Marche)
The most ancient carnival in Italy (and one of the most ancient in Europe), the first edition of this feast dates back to 1347. Just as in Cento, the getto is the main event here, together with a very unusual concert of Musica Arabita, played (just like Einsturzende Neubauten would have done!) with cutlery and tin cans. Traditional mask: Vulon
Carnevale di Ivrea (Piemonte)
This carnival is actually the commemoration of a very particular rebellion against the tyranny of the ius primae noctis, which is allegorically set about with oranges thrown by the crowd. Traditional masks: il Tiranno and Violetta la Mugnaia.
Carnevale di Madonna di Campiglio (Trentino Alto-Adige)
The wonderful scenario of the Dolomiti is the set of this princely celebration which derives directly from the Asburgic Carnival (still celebrated in Austria). Traditional masks: Princess Sissi and Francesco Giuseppe.
Carnevale di Mamoiada (Sardegna)
One of the most characteristic carnivals of the country, this celebration focuses on the folkloristic characters of Mamuthones and Issohadores, in an allegoric representation of the life of shepherds. Dressing up Mamuthones is an event by itself, since they have to carry on their backs up to 30kg of cowbells! Traditional masks: Mamuthones and Issohadores.
Carnevale di Milano (Lombardia)
Celebrated right after all the other carnivals have ended, this feast actually starts on the Mardi Gras and goes on for a whole week, commemorating S. Ambrogio and his pilgrimage. Traditional mask: Meneghino.
Carnivale di Putignano (Puglia)
From far north to far south, this carnival, besides being of the Europe's first, is also a fierce contest between renown masters of papier-mache. Starting from January, 17th (feast of S. Antonio Abate), every Thursday is focused on a satirical representation of one particular social class, sparing literally no-one, not even the cornuti (husbands who have been cheated). Traditional mask: Farinella.
Carnevale di Venezia (Veneto)
And here we are: this is probably the most famous carnival in Italy, a succession of parades and events in the majestic scenario of a city lost in time. No further comment needed! Traditional mask: Baùta.
Carnevale di Viareggio (Toscana)
Arguably second only to Venezia in terms of fame, this carnival is characterized by huge allegoric floats of papier-mache. The position of Viareggio, easily reachable and very close to landmarks such as Firenze and Pisa, brings thousands of tourists every year to the parades. Traditional mask: Burlamacco.
And what about Rome?
The Eternal City doesn't host a historical carnival, but you can find several events scattered all over the city, especially during the night of Mardi Gras and Jeudi Gras. Check out this year's event here and don't miss our Carnival partytonight!