10 Italian Words You Should Know Before Moving to Italy

Friends, if I had a time machine and I could go back in time and change one thing about my moving to Italy experience I don’t think I would change anything.

Sound crazy? Just a bit. But hang in there with me for a moment. I wouldn’t change anything because moving to Italy was how I learned to persevere. It was like boot camp, Italian style of course. I had to learn how to push my way through a crowd, endure long and confusing bureaucratic processes, and run around the city making a billion photocopies, buying countless stamps and filling out paperwork like a mad secretary. It was great. It was ruthless. It’s what has made me a stronger person and able to endure the everyday problems of Italian life.

Buuuuuut maybe there is one little thing that would have made my life a bit easier. Of course I couldn’t have known it at the time but if there had been someone there to teach me it would have been nice as pie. And pie is nice. Especially if it’s ricotta pie, but that’s another story.

So today I’m going to share with you a little sliver of the moving to Italy pie: 10 Italian words I wish I had known before moving to Italy.

10 Italian Words You Should Know Before Moving to Italy

  1. Codice Fiscale = fiscal code; this word comes in handy when filling out forms and basically registering for just about everything. It’s the equivalent of the American Social Security Number. When you apply for a permesso di soggiorno, you should also receive a codice fiscale. Keep a copy of it on you at all times because you never know when you’re going to need it.
  2. Ammorbidente vs. Detersivo = fabric softener vs. detergent; one of the first things you have to buy are laundry liquids. Don’t be fooled like I was. Know the difference between ammorbidente (fabric softener) and detersivo (laundry detergent) or your clothes will come out dangerously soft.
  3. Tessera = card; Italians love their tesseras and they ask you if you have one in just about every shop you go into. At the supermarket checkout, “Hai la tessera?” (do you have a reward card?), at the pharmacy, “Hai la tessera sanitaria?” (do you have a health insurance card?), at the night club, “Per entrare, devi avere la tessera” (to enter you must have the tessera). And my brain? “Mamma mia, what’s with this damn tessera!”. Tessera can imply a wide range of cards, from health insurance card to store’s reward card. Be prepared to quickly rack up a pocket full of tesseras!tessera_sanitaria
  4. Ricarica Cellulare = cellphone credit; In Italy, in order to pay for your cellphone service, you must top up your credit every month. This can usually be done by visiting the phone store, a tabaccheria shop or at the supermarket where they will give you a code to top up with. The magic word you need to know is ricarica cellulare (cellphone credit), followed by the name of your service provider and the amount you’d like to purchase (after you get the code, you simply call the ricarica number and enter the code on your cell keypad).
  5. Bollo = stamp; In the first few months of living here you’ll need to visit the post office almost everyday and you’ll need a lot of bolli! Bolli, or stamps, are used when mailing your permesso di soggiorno application, registering for other documents, and/or sending letters back home. So when visiting the tabaccheria or post office, know the word bollo as well as which type of bollo you need (there are many types…).marca-da-bollo
  6. Caparra = deposit for rent; when renting your first appartment one of the first things your landlord will ask you for is the caparra, a deposit/down payment. For me this word is tricky because it is completely different from the word you use for a bank deposit (deposito or versamento) and it sorta sounds like the name of a mafia group. So don’t be freaked out when your landlord asks you for the caparra, but instead politely ask, “Quanto è?” (How much is it?).
  7. Sacchetto, sacco, bustina, borsina = plastic bag/sack; This is a great word to know at the checkout of a store, as the cashier will always ask you, “Ce l’hai un sacchetto?” (Do you have a bag?) to know if you’d like a plastic bag or not. There are several different terms for “plastic bag” so be familiar with them before you go shopping! Also know that in Italy, you are usually charged 10-15 cents for a plastic bag so it’s a good idea to bring your own bags whne shopping.
  8. Le monete = coins/change; Another great word for the checkout. It’s common in Italy to use le monete (coins) and the cashier typically asks for them, particularly if he or she is running low. Keep coins on you and try to give exact change if you can.Bologna on a budget
  9. Prelievo = withdrawl; I remember the first time I was stuck in front of the bancomat (ATM) completely clueless about which buttons to press. The one word to know is prelievo (withdrawl) otherwise you won’t be able to get your money out!
  10. Ci penso = I’ll think about it; Useful in almost all situations! When you’re not sure how to answer a question just use ci penso (I’ll think about it). For example, when the cashier asks you, “Vuole la tessera?” (Do you want our reward card?) and you’re not sure yet, just say “Ci penso” and walk away. If an Italian man asks you on date and you’re totally freaked out by his forwardness, smile and say “Ci penso” and walk away. Italians can be quite pressuring sometimes and it can be difficult to say “no”, so ci penso is a great phrase for getting out of a sticky situations wihtout sounding rude.

Those are my 10 magic words that I had to learn the hard way by making many mistakes. Of course, that’s not to say that making mistakes is a bad thing. In fact, I’m a big fan of learning through errors!

Still, the more you are prepared for new situations, the more you lower your anxiety, making it easier to learn and cope with culture shock in general. The best thing you can do is this: before heading into a new situation in Italy, do a little language research. Take your grocery list and translate it into Italian. Rehearse the questions you want to ask and look up any vocabulary you don’t know. You can’t be prepared for every little thing, but at least you’ll have the basic tools to get you started.

Have some Italian words you wish you had known? Share them with us below! We can all learn from each other’s experiences and I’d love to know what other Italy expats think.

2 comments on “10 Italian Words You Should Know Before Moving to Italy

  1. Being first generation Italian (my parents are from italy) I thought I would know a lot of these words, but I didn’t. Sooo Sara, you have taught me a lot, and I thank you for that.. Love elaine milillo

    • Haha! Wow Elaine! Well, they are pretty specific words for those looking to move to Italy so not to worry. The fun words like “basta!” and “mangia!” are equally as important!

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