Friday, 20 March 2015

Top 10 Ways to Embarrass Yourself in Italian

Well ladies and gents, I've just survived my first week back at work  and I am pretty tired so I'm going to amuse myself by publishing something unpublishable on my Facebook page. By the end of this you'll be wondering how on Earth one language can have so many unexpected pit falls but there is still time for you to learn from mine and other's mistakes. Do I as I say. Don't do as I do OK?! I would ask my mum to avert her delicate eyes if she is reading but I think she'll secretly want to know anyway. Here is my compilation of the most embarrassing slips a foreigner can make in Italian. If I missed any then add them in the comments.


Looking all innocent like...

1. Let's start with one of the most well known ones because it was my baptism into the world of many language slip ups in Italian. Fico would be the Italian for fig or figtree while fica or figa would be a very rude way to say vagina. Fika is also the swedish for snack. So when attending an Italian party I and my collegaue announced it was "Fika time" we were confused when we were met with stunned silence and then extreme mirth.

Confusingly You can say 'che figo!' or 'che figata!' (although not in high society - they didn't like that much when I used it) and it merely means means "Cool!" Still on slightly treacherous territory here, if a man says a woman is 'una figa' he is saying she is hot, which is slightly counter-intuitive to native English speakers.

2. The next word I ran into difficulty was the word for bird - uccello. It has a double meaning identical to that of cock, but I didn't know that and so was mystified when the class erupted into uncontrollable hysterical laughter when their teacher pointed to the suspended model pigeon in the middle of the classroom and asked "What's with all the flying birds?" I was very worried for sometime that I would unwittingly walk into a similar trap...

3. ...which leads me on to the pisolino (nap) and pisellino (little willy - but literally little pea). I am very careful about the way I talk about peas in class, but it doesn't take much in the way of sloppy pronunciation to transform a nap into something entirely different.

4. You see it's that double L in the middle that makes a big difference to the Italian ear. Another word that can get you into similar trouble is the word penne (the pasta or pens) and pene (penis). Think about what could happen if you don't linger long enough on that N next time you order penne arrabbiata in a restaurant.

5. Likewise you must be careful whenever you give someone your age or write 'year'. At work we recently had to reprint a whole set of letters to parents because someone had missd a letter out of anno (ano is anus). Spellcheck is no help here.

6. The next mistake I make so often I just get gently reminded now by friends and family with a sort of small head shake and look to say 'that it doesn't mean what you think it means.' As much as I would like to use the word excited in Italian 'eccitato/a' is not the way to go about it because only the horny should describe themselves as such.

7. This is a fun one. Scoraggiare (discourage) vs Scoreggiare (to fart). I can harldy pronounce either and leave well alone.

8. Have fun asking your partner if he or she wants to sweep up (scopare) and then get them a broom (scopa) because to sweep doubles up as the equivalent of to f*ck .  Honestly I don't use the word very often because I have a hoover so mixing it up with scappare (to run away) is probably the greater peril for most of us.

9. And now to lower the tone even further.... My non Italian speaking friend got sat next to Italian man during a dinner party and thought she would amuse him by telling him all the rude Italian words she knew and she knew quite a few. The icing on the cake was when she pulled out 'spagnola' which is a Spanish woman or a slang term for a tit wank (I'm sorry I honestly had a good mental rummage for a more delicate term but it is what it is). With a stunned expression he inhaled deeply and said "WOW. You really know a lot of rude words.'

I don't know how many Spanish women are in your company for potential accidents to occur but Nota Bene ladies - Italian men do not like hearing women swear or use bad language. It is a total double standard but that it is how they are.

(Whilst writing this I wanted to check that I had remembered rightly so with some trepidation I put the word spagnola into google. Fortunately for me it only came up with a yound lady asking for tips for the less busty haha.)

 10. At number ten I give you with the nightmare that it pecorino (my favourite cheese) and pecorina (doggy style) and you can substitute your own embarrassing story.

I suppose if you were a sheep farmer you would have to be careful when talking about little ewes in general.

Of course I've made plenty of mistakes when using swear words I KNEW were bad words but had underestimated the badness of. When in doubt don't tell your husband where to go after several glasses of wine in front of your mother-in-law, even as a joke, and don't ask for explanations of swear words you heard randomly while your spouse is driving the car. Swerves, "Where on Earth did you hear THAT?!" .

It can also work the other way. One poor boy was on the recieving end of THE LOOK for talking about cazzotti because I didn't know it was just the innocent word for punch, much to the confusion of the students who sweetly decided he had deserved it anyway.

Probably celebrating because his wife hasn't sworn if front of his mother today.

I would also like to thank those of you who sent me get well messages. All the love is really helping me get through what has been a very difficult time.


Edit! How could I have forgotten the mix up that is tetto/tetti (roof/rooves) and tette (boobs!)

Also preservativo is another false friend to watch out for as it means condom and not preservative! To talk about preservatives without embarassment you need the word conservanti.

Who knew Italian was so dangerous?


Federico said...

Your post is very figo Laura ;-)

Grace said...

My poor delicate eyes! Will they ever recover? I will be all worried about asking for pecorino at the cheese counter now. Just as well that the nice stuff with the peppercorns comes ready wrapped.

training said...

Very very helpfull :) . After these I will give a second thought when I'm trying to speak in Italian -_- .

Laruchka said...

Federico - thanks!
Grace - Just point if you don't trust yourself!
Training - learn from my mistakes but remember it always makes for a funny story when you do slip up! ;)

Giannis said...

Thank you Laruchka. I just change my name from the old one "training" to my real name "Giannis". I like a lot you blog :)