When ordering a coffee in Italy, you have to make sure that what you want is expressed clearly. For example, if you ask for “a coffee”, the barista will probably prepare an espresso, which is what Italians refer to as “a coffee”.
If you ask for a “latte”, they will probably give you a strange look and arrive minutes later with a glass of milk. Be sure to specify that you’d like a “caffe latte”, because “latte” means milk.
It’s easy to mispronounce Italian words and it happens to the best of us. One of the most important things to note is that one letter can change the whole meaning of a word! If you’re asking for directions to the basilico (basil) you’ll be given a strange look. Whereas if you ask if there is fresh basilica (a church granted special privileges by the Pope) in the food dish, you’ll get an even stranger look.
Many Italian words have double consonants which produces a short vowel sound. For example, “penna” (pen) or “pappa” (baby food). When the same words are pronounced or written with single consonants, “penna” becomes “pena” (pain or punishment) and “pappa” becomes “papa” (Pope). It can be embarrassing, to say the least.
Oftentimes tourists will also make the mistake of saying “I would like a panini”. In Italian, a word ending on an “i” or “e” usually makes it plural, so you are technically asking for multiple sandwiches. Rather ask for “un panino”.
Another tip is to literally pronounce every single letter of a word. Your chances of making mistakes will be far fewer. For example:
– “e” is always pronounced “eh”, not “eeh”
– “o” is always pronounced “oh”, not “owh”,
– “i” is pronounced “eeh” not “aye”.
– “ch” is always a “k” sound
– “ci” is always a “chee” sound.
So if you want to talk about penne pasta, say “p-eh-n-n-eh”, not “pennay”. If you want to ask for vino, say “v-ee-n-oh”, not “v-aye-n-owh”. If you want to say chaos, say “kha-oh-s”, not “kayohs”.
You will no doubt see plenty of hand gestures flying as you walk the streets of Italy. Don’t assume everyone is swearing at you (although, they might be swearing at someone!). But for your own safety and levels of embarrassment, steer clear of using random hand gestures that you’ve seen. You may just insult someone without realizing.
While many Italian words may be similar to those in other European languages, a sneaky pitfall is false friends – words which mean something else in a different language, even if they have the exact same spelling.
For example, if you know a little bit of Spanish, and want to talk about the cute donkey (burro), an Italian will be extremely confused since “burro” means butter in Italian.
If you’re asking to look at someone’s “camera” (room) they might be offended, or surprised and invite you over, not realizing that you meant their camera with which you take photos.