Updated: May 30
When traveling abroad, one thing that most people strive for is to be treated as a friend rather than a tourist. The most efficient way to avoid being seen as a silly American is to learn some crucial slang phrases to make it seem like it’s not your first time in the country.
As a travel company that focuses on immersive experiences in Italy’s lesser-known areas, we’ve picked up a few key phrases and want to make it easy for you. Join our founder, Sierra Busch, in this Live Coffee Chat replay to learn some fun, local Italian phrases. These phrases and local dialect will immerse you into Italian culture and develop you into an Italian regular!
By the end of this Coffee Chat, you’ll be able to sink into the heart of Italian culture for a real taste of what it’s like in the role of a local. Learning these phrases will peak the curiosity of the locals, creating an opportunity to break the barrier of communication to make your trip to Italy as memorable as possible!
Watch the video above or read Sierra’s advice below!
While it’s important and impressive to go into your travels being able to speak the native language of the country you are visiting, it’s not feasible for most people to learn a whole language in time for a one or two week long trip. That’s why I’m such a fan of simply learning some local slang words and phrases, just enough to turn the heads of locals and make a quick connection with them. It’s the ultimate lazy man’s way into the hearts of the locals!
1. Salve, come va?
This is a casual and colloquial way of saying “Hello, how’s it going?”, rather than saying “Buongiorno, come stai?”. We can use this phrase when we go up to someone and want to start a casual conversation.
To break down this phrase, ‘ma’ means ‘but’ and ‘che’ means ‘what’, so this phrase literally means ‘but what’. We use this phrase as a way of saying “no” while also expressing disbelief or disappointment. It is a strong way of saying “Of course not!” or “Not even!”. I like to think of it as saying “But what are you saying? Are you crazy?”. For example, someone could ask me, “Sierra, sei andata in vacanza quest’estate?” to which I would respond, “Macché!”. This means “Did you go on vacation this summer?”. And I responded something like, “Ugh, not even close!”.
When broken down, ‘E’ means ‘and’ and ‘come’ means ‘how,’ and colloquially it is used as an emphatic way to say “yes”. So it would be used as “Absolutely” or “You’d better believe it!”. For example, someone could ask you “Did you like the gelato?” and you would respond, “Eccome!” because of course you did! How could you not?
This Italian phrase sounds very similar to eccome, but eccomi means “Here I am!” or “I’m here!”. We would use this phrase for many different reasons. For example, if we are running late for a meeting and then arrive we could say “Eccomi!” meaning “I’m here!”. It can also be used by kids when their parent calls them down for dinner and the child can say “Eccomi!” meaning “Here I am!”.
5. Facciamo il chilo.
This means “Let’s rest after lunch.” This phrase can be used after you have a delicious feast of Italian cuisine to tell your friends that you want to take a break and rest after the meal. For example, you could say, “Abbiamo mangiato un sacco, facciamo il chilo.” This means “We ate so much, let’s take a post-lunch rest.”
6. È tutto pepe!
This is a phrase used to describe someone that is full of life. This would be used to describe someone that has a vibrant personality and a sunny disposition that brings joy to everyone around them.
7. Non vedo l’ora!
This literally means, “I don’t see the hour,” but it is used colloquially to mean “I can’t wait!” or “I’m so excited!”. For example someone would ask you, “Tomorrow you’ll go on the wine tour?” to which you would respond, “Si, non vedo l’ora!”, meaning that you are so excited! Another example could be someone saying, “Tomorrow night I’ll cook for you!” and you would respond, “Non vedo l’ora!!” meaning you can’t wait!
8. Che figata!
This is a casual way of saying “Cool!” or “What a cool thing!” For example if someone came back to the hotel after a day perusing Italy and said to the receptionist, “We learned how to make handmade pasta!”, she or he could respond “Che figata!” to express that they think that’s cool. Another example could be someone telling you, “I’m a shoemaker, I’ve been making shoes for 30 years the way my great grandfather taught me,” to which you would respond “Che figata!”.
This can be translated to “No worries,” “Don’t worry about it,” or “It’s nothing!”. This is used also as a way to say you’re welcome. For instance, after someone cooks you dinner and you say, “Thank you so much for the great meal!”, the one that cooked the meal would respond “Figurati!” meaning “You’re welcome” or “No worries!” or “Don’t mention it!”. Another example would be if you got to a hotel and the front desk employee said, “I’m so sorry your room is not ready yet,” you could respond, “Figurati!” saying “Don’t worry about it!”.
10. Che schifo!
This is translated to “Disgusting!” or “How disgusting!” This could be used by saying, “I tried the gelato at the Gelateria in the touristy area by the Vatican- Che schifo!” It is an aggressive way to express distaste. There is a vulgar form of this phrase as well known as, “Mi fa cagare!”. This is a phrase that you would not want to use with someone you’re not already feeling like you’re informal friends with because this literally means, “It makes me poop,” (LOL yes I said that). This Italian phrase would be used if you wanted to say that something was truly awful. I equate it to in English when we say “It makes me want to puke…”. For instance, “That restaurant? Mi fa cagare!”, meaning that you really really thought it was terrible. Italians would also say this about the idea of having a cappuccino after lunch because it is ingrained in the culture that having warm milk after a meal messes with our digestion.
This colloquial Italian phrase is literally pronounced like the English word “Die,” but means “Come on,” “Hurry up,” or to encourage someone to do something. You can use it when someone refuses an idea or suggestion, like if someone said “Let’s go to the gym,” their friend might respond, “No,“Dai!”. This could also be used to say, “Come on!” or something similar to “Stop it!”. For example, when you want to share your ice cream with someone and they take huge bites, you would say “Dai!”. This would be to tell them to stop taking so much!
This is a quick Italian slang way to say “I don’t know” or to show that you’re indecisive. For example when someone asks you, “Would you like to book the cooking class or the wine tour?”, you would respond, “Boh. They both sound amazing, so I don't know.” Or when you get back to the hotel after completing a laundry list of activities throughout Italy, the people in the hotel might ask, “How did you do so many things in one day?”, to which you would say, “Boh!”, meaning “I don’t know, I just made it happen!”.
All of the above are Italian slang phrases and local dialect that will make the Italian locals do a double take when they hear you using them! By peaking their curiosity, you allow quick connections to be made. This is one of the easiest ways to be treated as a friend in Italy rather than a tourist and allow yourself to have the best Italian travel experience possible!
If you love learning Italian but feel a little shy about using it, you might be interested in joining one of our immersive small group trips! We include facilitated experiences with our local friends so that you can get to know Italians in a casual, relaxed setting and have a true cultural exchange (with the support of a fluent English-Italian cultural host). Click here to check out our upcoming trips and experiences!