Useful Italian Phrases for Travelers
Your Italian Hellos & Goodbyes
Italian greetings tend to vary based on time of day and the formality of each situation. “Buongiorno” (“Good morning/day”) or “Buona sera” (“Good evening”) are appropriate in any context, while “Ciao” is used informally for both “hello” and “goodbye”. “Buona notte” means “good night” and is reserved for goodbyes after 10pm or for when someone is heading to bed. “Arrivederci” translates to “See you later!” so it should be used when you plan to see the person again, but we’ve noticed lots of tourists and travelers like to say it, too – perhaps they’re being hopeful (and that’s okay)! If you don’t know now, you can learn these Italian words during your tour in Rome.
How to Be Polite in Italian: Don’t Forget Your Manners
For the sake of politeness or persuasion, it never hurts to add a “Per favore” (“please”) at the end of a request. And when it’s granted, follow up with a “Grazie” (“thank you”) or even a “Grazie mille!” (“thanks a thousand!”) to express gratitude. Don’t forget to pronounce the “e” at the end of “grazie” like this: GRA-TSEE-AY.
One word you’re likely to hear daily in Rome is “Prego!”. No, it is not a slang term for pregnant, but instead has a handful of other meanings. For example, it can mean “You’re welcome.” (in response to a “thank you”) or “Go ahead.” (as someone holds the door open for you) or even “Help yourself.” (to the aperitivo buffet).
How to Say “Excuse Me” the Right Way
In Italian, there are two ways to say “Excuse me.” You should use “Permesso” when trying to get past someone or when you need someone to get out of your way, while “Scusi” is more appropriate when you are trying to get someone’s attention. “Scusa”, on the other hand, is used to apologize when, for example, you’ve stepped on someone’s foot.
Phrases to Find Your Way Around With
Asking for directions is easy enough. “Dov’è…?” (“Where…?”) followed by the name of what you’re looking for will do! For example, “Dov’è il bagno?” when you need to find a restroom or “Dov’è la banca?” for a nearby bank. Of course, if you ask in Italian, they may answer in Italian, so watch for physical cues (you can always count on the Italians to speak with their hands)! Other things that you might need help locating are the “autobus” (bus, pronounced “AU-TOE-BOOS”), “treno” (train), “metro” (subway), “albergo” (hotel), or “aeroporto” (airport).
Be Proficient Shopping & at the Cashier
When it’s time to check out, you’ll definitely need to know “Quanto costa?” (“How much does It cost?”). Of course, this is when knowledge of numbers will come especially in handy, but there are a couple of other things to keep in mind. In Rome, there seems to be an endless shortage on change, so retailers often ask if you have “monete” or “spiccioli”, referring to exact change or smaller bills and coins.
Furthermore, especially in the super markets, they ask if you need a “busta” for your items, which occasionally costs an extra 10 cents or so. On some occasions, the shop assistant or vendor will ask “Basta così?” (“Is that all”), which can be answered with a simple “sì” or “no”.
What to Say When Eating Out
Upon entering a restaurant, a simple way to request a table would be to let the host know how many are in your group. For example, “Un tavolo per due, per favore” (“A table for two, please.”). When you’re read to order, you can either point awkwardly at the menu (don’t worry, we’ve all been there) or simply say “Vorrei…” (“I would like…”) followed by the items you’d like!
Before digging in, your waiter will likely say “Buon appetito!”, which loosely translates to “Enjoy your meal!” and should anyone decide to clink glasses for “cheers”, the appropriate phrase would be “Salute!” (which is also the polite response after someone sneezes).
When you’re ready for it, simply ask for “ll conto, per favore.” (“The bill, please.”). If you want to leave “una mancia” (“a tip”, pronounced “MAN-CHA”), just leave the extra money and tell the waiter “Tutto a posto” (“It’s alright”) suggesting that it’s all worked out and the rest is for him.
Getting On & Off Public Transport
In order to use the city trains, trams, and metropolitan, you’ll need a to buy a ticket before boarding. Find a tobacco shop or newspaper stand and politely request your tickets like this: “Un biglietto, per favore.” for one or “Due biglietti, per favore” for two. “Biglietto” (pronounced “BILL-YET-OH”) is singular and “biglietti” (pronounced “BILL-YET-EE”) is plural.
Once on board, move away from the door or you’ll be asked “Scendi?” (“Are you getting off?”) at each stop as other passengers try to exit. When you’re ready to pass the others and exit yourself, you can let them know by saying “Scendo all prossima” (“I’m getting off at the next stop.”) and they will let you pass.
In Case of Emergency
While we hope you’ll never have to say it, “Aiuto!” (pronounced “EYE-OO-TOE”) means “Help!” While Rome is generally a very safe city, pickpockets are aplenty in crowded central areas. If someone shouts “Attenzione!” check your surroundings quickly, as this means “Be careful!” or “Look out!” and can be used in a variety of situations, from drawing attention to a pothole or even an oncoming car.
Know Your Numbers
Of course, any time you’re travelling, it’s a good idea to be familiar with numbers – otherwise, you could end up paying €40 instead of €14 or even hopping on the wrong train! Start here with 1 to 10 and go from there.
1: Uno (OO-NO)
2: Due (DOO-AY)
3: Tre (TRAY)
4: Quattro (KWA-TRO)
5: Cinque (CHEEN-KWAY)
6: Sei (SAY)
7: Sette (SAY-TAY)
8: Otto (OH-TOE)
9: Nove (NO-VAY)
10: Dieci (DEE-EH-CHEE)
How to Say “Good Luck”
While we use the expression “Break a leg!” in English, Italians say “In bocca al lupo”, which literally translates to “In the mouth of the wolf!”
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