Italian Hand Gestures – Part 6

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a hand gesture video, but I’ve finally got a new one for you!

In the video, I talk about how the light quality isn’t the greatest, but then in post-production I discovered that YouTube has some new options that you can play around with to try and sort out the lighting/contrast/brightness. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better than it was at the start! Though, if anybody wants to gift me a professional HD video camera, tripod, and some lights, I wouldn’t say no. ;-)

So, here’s the vid for you guys. Learn the Italian hand gesture for “there is/are none“.


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It’s the Anus of the Dragon!

Italian is a beautiful language. It’s the poetic craft of Dante, the musical prowess of Verdi, and the finicky language where it’s all too easy to say “anus” when you really meant to say “year“.

The Italian word for “anus” is ano while the word for “year” is anno. The only thing that sets these words apart is an extra “n”. I think these two words are recklessly similar, and the problem is not just with the spelling!

The Italian language has a double consonant pronunciation where you basically hold the consonant for a fraction of a second longer than usual. So, when speaking, if you don’t hold that “n” long enough, you’re in for an embarrassing treat!

It seems like a cruel joke aimed at foreigners that one of these double consonant words just happens to be the one for “year”, doesn’t it? It’s such a commonly used word. Oh, and let’s not forget that it’s easy to say “Can you please pick up a pack of penis at the stationery store while you’re out?” Only one little “n” differentiates the word “pens” (penne) from “penis” (pene).

C’mon guys! Anus and penis are among the words that I can easily biff up in Italian? Are you kidding me?!? I mean, couldn’t we have chosen less potentially dangerous words to be the counterpart of the much more innocent ones? I feel like I’m walking around on a linguistic minefield here!

You are cordially invited to buzz the hell off

So, the Italian language has two different types of “you” – the informal one (tu) and the formal one (Lei).

  • Tu is what you say when you are talking to your friends, younger people, and other people who you know well and have a close relationship with
  • Lei is what you use when you are speaking to strangers, your elders, or people whom you want to show a certain level of respect to

Wanna know something cool? Italians have this great way of using the formal “you”, even when in the heat of a verbal dispute.

Using Lei when arguing with somebody you don’t know or who you want to show respect for even as your chewin’ them out is something that I just find so hilarious! It’s a linguistically artful way of telling somebody off while still remaining polite despite the fact that what you’re yelling may well be laced with swear words and insults.

To give you an idea of how funny this concept is (at least to a native English speaker living in Italy), here are some masterful examples of the vocalizations you might hear when people “politely argue” in Italian. Please note: to get the most out of these, you really should  envision them being said in a posh British accent.

  • Good sir, I heartily insist that you keep your !@%#ing dog’s mouth shut!
  • I should find it swell if you would stop double parking your sh!& box of a moped in front of my mother!@%#ing car!
  • Would you be so kind as to go take a good sh!& for yourself, you !@%#ing idiot!
  • Hello there, outspoken b!+ch! Please refrain from busting my !@%#ing balls!
  • It is with the utmost respect that I entreat you to go !@%# thyself … with vim and vigor, mind you!

So, the translations of what was being said in Italian are not exactly spot on, but since English doesn’t have the formal “you” there was no other way to really convey the idea. Plus, it gives me a valid excuse to use lots of bad words!

Now I won’t be the one to write down any Italian swear words here in this article, but if you guys want to leave a comment with any Italian parolacce that you may know, I certainly won’t be able to !@%#ing stop you! :-)

Italian Hand Gestures – Part 5

Ciao ragazzi! Here is a new Italian hand gesture for you to learn.

Italy is known the world over as a country with great food to eat and this video teaches you the hand gesture to say that you appreciate the local cuisine!

I filmed this video in my bed because the sun sets early here these days (being winter and all) and my apartment is really not the best in terms of lighting. I did a few test runs and my bed seemed to give the best results.

I guess we’re getting more and more intimate here on the blog! ;-)

Italian Hand Gestures – Part 4

Here’s another vlog* for you guys: the Italian hand gesture for “That is perfect! That is precise!”

* Vlog means “video-blog” in internet-dork jargon. (I recently learned that myself!) :-D

Italian Hand Gestures – Part 3

Ciao ragazzi!

The public has spoken! You guys voted on which Italian hand gesture you wanted to see next, so here it is!

(P.S. I’ve had a hoarse voice recently, so please excuse my growling … though I do think it’s a bit sexy)

Just one drink, I swear

The Italian approach to drinking alcohol is much different from the American one.

I think the fact that there is no real word for “hangover” in Italian serves to best prove my point. Italians have a way to express feeling hungover – avere i postumi di una sbronza (feel the aftereffects of having previously been drunk). However, this is a long-winded description which is necessary only because the word “hangover” itself does not exist.

It’s not that Italians forgot to invent a word for hangover back when they were drafting up ones like “spaghetti”, “bella”, and “Ferrari”, it’s just that there was never any real need for it because, well, Italians drink a heck of a lot less than Americans do!

There are definitely the times when an Italian person will have a bit too much fun at the festa and come home drunk, but:

  1. it happens much less rarely than it does in America
  2. they most likely were considerably less drunk than their American counterpart would have been
  3. they probably didn’t set out the night with the intention of getting hammered

Italians place a lot of importance on keeping up one’s good public image and singing loudly on the street at 3:00 am, stumbling out of a taxi, or ruining your designer jeans while sitting on the floor of some public bathroom as you barf up your linguine doesn’t seem to go hand-in-hand with that ideal, for some odd reason! ;-)

American Beer

When I first came to Italy, I arrived with the mentality of a good ol’ Irish-American from Boston who had graduated college not too long before, and just recently lived for 10 months in Ireland. Let’s just say that I knew how to party with the best of ‘em! My idea of going out to a bar or club meant going out with the intention of coming back home drunk as a skunk.

I would get frustrated with my Italian friends when we went out for the night and got just one drink at a bar before walking to the next bar, and then maybe not even getting anything to drink at all when we got there. I felt like “hey, you guys, are we out drinking or what?” I couldn’t understand why they weren’t up for doing double shots of whiskey and talking the bartender into making us the strongest drink humanly possible.

Birra Italiana

For Italians, a night out means being social, spending time with people, relaxing and talking, and not necessarily getting absolutely trashed. Yes, they might have a few beers along the way, yes they may have a few glasses of wine too many, but the whole idea of having a good night out doesn’t necessarily revolve around alcohol as much as it does in America.

Anybody that currently goes out with me either here in Italy or in the USA when I am back there, will testify that I can still drink a lot and get boozey, but believe me when I say that I have calmed down a good deal from what I used to drink. I think part of it is age, I mean, I’m 30 now, not 21 (or… 19), but part of it is also definitely the fact that the Italian approach towards going out and just getting one drink is starting to have its influence…. and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

It’s shaped like a boot

Italy celebrates it’s 150th birthday today. Buon compleanno Italia!

I know that might sound weird, especially because Italy is considered to be an “old” country with ancient Roman ruins that have been around for a lot longer than a “younger” country like the USA has. Well, all this is true, but this celebration of 150 years doesn’t represent the existence of Italy, but rather it’s unification. I’m not really that “into” history (nor do I know enough to really write a blog post about it) so I’ll be quick on the historic details so we can get to the heart of this blog post: different parts of Italy were conquered and ruled by different countries, different regimes, and different governments untill 150 years ago when the Resurgence took place to unify all of these territories into one state.

Given the shape of Italy on the map, perhaps its best to think in terms of a boot. Italy was a boot that had pieces manufactured by many different companies. The laces were from the Austrian Empire, the heel was from Napoleon, the sole was from the Kingdom of Sicily, the leather was from the Catholic Church, and the inner lining was from Garibaldi. Then, 150 years ago, the boot was re-manufactured according to new production laws and now it has a tag on the inside reading “100% Made in Italy“. Any of my blog readers who know their Italian history are probably shuddering in horror at this metaphor right now, but I think it’s a cute way to sum it all up! :-)

All these different ruling entities, each with their own language and culture, helps to explain how Italy is so vastly different from region to region.

Take the USA, for example. It’s true that in Boston we don’t pronounce the “r” and that the southern states have an accent all their own. It’s true that the northeast has Wendy’s and the east coast has Jack-in-the-Box. But in the end, even though we’re a really spacious country, we Americans are all speaking the same language and all eating the same type of cheeseburger.

On the other hand, in Italy, which just go give you and idea is smaller than the state of California (and we got 49 more freakin’ states!), the language, culture, and food changes dramatically from one region to another.

As far as language goes, Italy has two of ‘em: standard Italian and dialects. Standard Italian was created so that all Italians coming from the various unified regions could communicate with each other. Before the creation of Italian, everybody just spoke dialect (a local regional language influenced by whatever party was ruling over that particular chunk of Italy). These dialects are not merely “accents” but languages all unto their own. Somebody from Bergamo and somebody from Naples, somebody from Sardegna and somebody from Florence, wouldn’t be able to really understand each other if they were all speaking in their own regional dialects. Dialects have their own vocabulary, own grammar, own spelling, and own pronunciation. Just take a look at the different words for the Carneval snacks in different dialects from my previous blog post. If somebody is speaking dialect in a movie or on the news, they even put subtitles in Italian so that people from other parts of Italy can understand! Isn’t that crazy??? I mean, Americans may have some regional words (sub vs. hero vs. hoagie vs. grinder) but if I spoke with somebody from Chicago or Atlanta I’d still know what they were saying!

Another part of Italian culture that has been strongly influenced by all the former non-unified regions is the food. Certian types of food, like pizza and lasagna, can be found all over Italy, but there are lots of types that are region-specefic that are hard or even impossible to find outside of the region, like Bologna’s gramigna pasta (a squiggly egg pasta), Venice’s sarde in saor (fried sardines and onions), Milan’s ossobuco (braised veal shank), or Sicily’s capunata (eggplant and celery salad).

sarde in saor

I mean, this isn’t like going to the grocery store in California and not finding the same brand of hot sauce or ice tea mix that I can get back in Boston… it’s like not finding these things at all! Plus, being that a lot of these local foods have names that come from dialect, people in other parts of Italy won’t even know what the hell food you’re talkin’ about!

It just really blows my mind that I can take a seven hour flight from Boston to San Diego, step off of the plane and be able to speak with people and know what food there is to be had, but if I take a 2 hour train ride in Italy, I risk entering a world where I don’t know what people of saying nor what that delicious looking cheese in the deli window is!

Let’s go make a walk

Garrett, don’t you mean take a walk?

Yes. Yes I do. I didn’t mean to say “make a walk”. I also don’t mean to say “Can you please spend the candle?.” “I need to stamp these documents from my computer” “She should system her priorities” or “Last night I took a beer at the bar”.

The thing is, as my Italian improves my English is starting to make crap. Dammit! I did it again!

When I first arrived in Italy (almost 5 1/2 years ago now!!!), my Italian was very poor. I could say a few things like “Hello” “How much?” “Where’s the bathroom?” “Pizza” and “Stop staring at my crotch”. You know, the basics. Though it’s true that I did study Italian in college, it’s also true that I wasn’t a very good student. I somehow managed to get Italian credit for a course that I took where I wrote all the essays in English. How the hell did I do that!!??!

Basically, 85% of my Italian I ‘ve learned “strada faccendo” (by doing – literally “doing the street”). I picked it up during my time in Italy from friends, colleagues, on television, at the bar, on the bus, and in the piazza. I think by this point I could teach a revolutionary new Italian language course to beginners called “Move to a country where you don’t know the language and make a life for yourself: 101″. It’s definitely the best way to learn!

Not having a grasp on the language when I moved to Italy was pretty difficult at first. My power lies in my speech, and without it I felt powerless.

I’m a real communicative guy. What I may lack in other skills I make up for by … well … talking. I know maybe this sounds weird, but if I were as super hero, my special power would be talking. (Look! Up in the sky! It’s The Amazing Talker!) I’m just really good at it. I can be very convincing, sincere, poignant, and charismatic when I talk. Before you think I’m getting a big head, please let me specify that I suck at plenty of things… I just happen to have a lot of success with talking. As a matter of fact, that class where I got Italian credit without actually studying Italian was probably because I talked my professor into thinking it was a good idea.

Not only do I excel at talking, but I also do it to excess. I have trouble sitting through a film without talking and I drive my boyfriend bonkers by talking until I fall asleep at night, and then continuing the “conversation” as soon as I wake up (I use the word “conversation” lightly because I don’t really need anybody to respond in order to keep me going)! I talk so much that when I was young my Mom gave me the Mr. Chatterbox book from the Mr. Men series. I’d say it’s pretty fitting. Certainly better than getting Mr. Shut Up Already!

All this being said, I felt really frustrated at not being able to express myself in Italian. I had a hard time saying what I wanted and being understood. It would drive me crazy when I had something funny to say or wanted to contribute with my own winsome comment, but my language skills prevented me from doing so.

As is natural, the more time I spent in Italy and the more I surrounded myself with the Italian language, the more I improved. They say that you are really starting to understand a language well when you dream in that language. Though my first dream in Italian was pretty cool (despite the fact that in my dream I was making grammatical errors and my roommates were correcting me), for me, the tell-tale sign that I was getting the hang of the language was when I started being funny and making people laugh in Italian, and not just in that “listen to the silly foreigner with his American accent and cute lil’ grammatical mistakes” way, but in the same way that I can be funny in English (and I am a laugh riot in English!).

Nowadays, my Italian is pretty darn good. Sure, I make errors and my accent will never go away no matter how hard I try, but as my mind gets used to Italian and the language comes flowing out without me even having to think about it, I find it difficult sometimes to switch back to English! I make verb mistakes (ie. let’s do a meeting) and sometimes I even forget words in English (ie. Just ring my … uh .. my campanello … no, wait .. my doorbell) . Often times I have to ask myself “Wait, do we say this in English?”

I really hope that I don’t start having problems expressing myself in English, or next time I come back to the States I’m just going to have to make all my jokes in Italian!