Pete Lee

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Excerpt of an e-mail to my friend Doug...

My friend Doug asked me to give him some basic survival Italian. My grammar and/or spelling is off, but it'll get the job done, and is beyond the "dos cervezas por favor" bullshit that makes the frat boys think they know foreign language. If you're in Portland, you can try your Italian out at the Piazza Italia restaurant in the Pearl District on Thursdays. It's pretty easy to learn, and the rhythmic cadence and intonation of Italian spoken at moderate speed makes it easier to understand than Spanish.

"As for survival Italian, I'll give you just some things to consider (my spelling may be off):

What you say when walking into a store/restaurant/shop:
si/no: obvious

Good morning/day/night:
Buon giorno: morning to noon
Buona sera: noon to evening
Buona notte: very late night (past 10 PM) Usually said if leaving a restaurant for home late at night.
Ciao: (listen closely, they'll pronounce it CHAU, with an a pronounced "oo" sound) I don't know where this "ciao bella" shit came from. Maybe it's real.
Arrividerci: Goodbye!
Buon viaggio: Basically, "have a nice trip"--said when someone is leaving town...

Mi scusi...: Excuse me (e.g., bumping into people, asking for help, etc.)

Parle inglese? Parle italiano?: Obvious

Cuanto questa? (check): How much?

Vorre un... per favore.: I would like a... please.
For example: "Vorre due etti di proscuitto di parma, per favore." (I believe "etti" is 100 grams, two of which is a good serving size of meat or cheese.) If you're getting something "da porta via"--to go (literally means something like "for the road,") you should interject that somewhere. I spent many an evening getting slices of tasty "pizza rustica" at Florentine pizza shops.

Grazie: Thanks.

Grazie, mille: Thanks a lot! (thousand, I think is what Mille means)

"Niente.": "It's nothing." (you're welcome)

Tutti va bene?: Is it all OK/good?

Va bene, grazie.: Very good, thanks

Benissimo, grazie!: Extremely fricken good, thanks!

Como se chiama?: What's your name?
Me chiamo Doug: "I'm Doug."

Sono americano: "I'm an american."

Dove ...: where is...
strada: street
primi strada: first street
secundi strada: second street
diretto a...: direct to...
sinistra: left (yes, the root word for sinister comes from this word--look up the etmology)
derecha (check): right
toilette: da pisser, yo. Also marked with signs saying "WC"

A real life example (although I can't remember Guido's real name, but...):
Me: "Mi scusi. Dove Basilica di Santa Maria Novella?" (I asked this lots--it's the main basilica next to the "Firenze Termini"--Florence train station.)
Guido: "Allora."(OK, look...) "En la prima stradra--sinistra, en la secundi strada--derecha, diretto a la Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. Va bene?" (Is that OK?)
Me: "Tutti va bene. Grazie mille!"

Numbers (uno, due, tre) are easy to learn, and this is less important because they're on the Euro. Lira was commonly used in 10 and 20 thousand increments, e.g., "due mille"

Random shite:
"Pane i coperto": "Bread and cover" -- the standard tip included in a restaurant, posted outside on the bottom of the menu. Tipping over this is neither necessary or appropriate.

Note the two sets of prices in small cafes: one is if you're sitting down (higher), one is if you're taking your comestibles "da porta via."

"Un cafe, per favore." This will get you a shot of espresso, not coffee. If you want just plain coffee, you can attempt to order a "cafe americano," but a cappuchino is better. "Cafe corretto" is coffee with a shot of booze, I believe (probably Tuaca or the like).

Fernet Branca: the magic Italian digestif that un-bloats you after a big meal. Very medicinal/herbal in flavor.

Borsaiolo: pickpocket

Acqua minerale: mineral water, carbonated
Acqua frizzante: same, but with very light, naturally occuring carbonation. My fave.
Acqua rubio: tap water. Don't bother drinking this unless you're broke.

I've typically allotted 1.5-2 hours for lunch, 2-2.5 for dinner. This is to allow me to order each course individually, not all at once. (antipasti, primi piatti, secundi piatti, dolce, etc.) This ensures that the food is very hot, and fresh--no heat lamps. I recommend you do the same.

In Tuscany, "vino di tavola" is perfect for a casual lunch. Very inexpensive, and generally very tasty."

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