Italy and Italian
Different things work for different people, but Da Capo, is the
textbook I enjoyed most. It goes very fast, and is probably
suitable for people who already know at least one foreign language already
and thus know what tenses and moods are.
As soon as you are able to, you should start reading material entirely in
Italian. I'm not a big fan of reduced vocabulary readers - you ought to be
able to find genuine Italian stuff which isn't too hard if you look around.
Try buying L'Espresso. Umberto Eco's column La bustina
di Minerva is usually worth a look. Don't worry about the tits and
bums on the cover - Italian weekly news magazines all have tits and bums on
Finding an Italian partner or going to live in Italy are of
course the ideal things to do... but if you can't manage either of those
you could (a) watch videos and TV in Italian whilst wearing headphones or
(b) try to find some opportunity to talk Italian with people whose English
is worse than your Italian.
Some other nice books:
Don't bother going to see high street-cred films by Fellini unless that's
the sort of thing you really like. If you prefer True Lies or
Ghostbusters, you might as well go to see those in Italian if
you can find them somewhere. Or try some relatively lowbrow Italian films.
(Strane storie is entertaining enough, and Carlo Verdone is
lots of fun and also gives you the chance to learn some romanaccio).
I really mean it about the headphones, by the way... when I was a beginner
I could understand TV and radio only if I wore headphones. TV is easier
when you're a relative beginner, and you can get some RAI stations via
satellite. You can try listening to Italian radio if you have a short-wave
receiver, but the stations I have tried have always been fairly weak - and
background noise is a killer for beginners.
- Cassell's Colloquial Italian
- Concentrated goodness. Contains some misleading or inaccurate
information, but more than makes up for this by its overall quality. Go and
buy it at once!
- Dizionario delle difficoltà e ambiguità nella
lingua inglese, Carlo Rossetti (Mondadori)
- A masterpiece. Buy it immediately! Feltrinelli probably has it. It is
chock-full of truly excellent advice, and the author covers some very
subtle things. It contains some wonderful examples of bad translations.
("Home-made sausage" -> "salsiccia di carne umana" is the best). There is
also a parody letter at the beginning of the book
which is very funny.
- L'inglese - lezioni semiserie, by Beppe Severgnini
- This is a rather entertaining book, mostly based around the ideas
that you only need to know 50 words to communicate in English, and
that almost all the grammar you need to know can be found in the titles
of songs and films. The author gives two samples of entire conversations made
up of song/film titles.
Later in the book Severgnini becomes more demanding. I particularly like
the chapter in which he analyses the poster which was used to publicise
the "You can't go on like this" campaign (to "regularise" illegal
immigrants) a few years ago. He finds a lot of mistakes, including
some extremely serious (red pen standard) ones. He offers some possible
explanations for the quality of the translation.
There is an interesting list of Italian idioms with an "almost English"
translation (used by many Italians) and an "English" translation (what
a native speaker would actually say). I do not always agree with him,
but then I'm quite a small sample and I have been in Italy for too long.
I think almost anyone can learn something from this book. I know I did.
I find it useful to buy Italian books about English because the "problems"
tell me things about Italian. I think, for the same reason, that it could
be useful for Italians to look at English books on Italian, such as
The Italian Language Today by Lepschky and Lepschky (sp?).
If you're reading this, you presumably have Net access. In that case, why
not sign up with an Italian BBS accessible via telnet? Agorà has the advantage that the
base fee is zero, so you can use its chat and local conferences without
Awful translations I have seen
- The Italian edition of Cynthia Heimel's Sex Tips for Girls
translates "give head" as "ascoltare", which means "listen"
and is not a euphemism for anything.
- A lot of tourist guidebooks tell you to look out for
"suggestive" statues in churches and museums. The
Italian suggestivo just means "haunting" (I'm told,
by a reader of this web page).
- SF films and books often contain rather odd translations. "point
blank" translated "al punto bianco" (at the white point) or
"di punto in bianco" (suddenly/unexpectedly)
- Some people have tried to persuade me that this is not a catastrophic
translation, but I still maintain that it is: In the Italian version of
Four Weddings and a Funeral, "skulk" is translated as
"infrattarsi", which means something along the lines of
"go off into the bushes and have sex". I think this totally changes
the sense of the scene. (There are lots of other minor changes in the
script, as is usualy, but nothing which really changes the meaning, except
perhaps Scarlett's conversation with the little girl under the table, which
seems to make no sense at all.)
- Rossetti, the author of an excellent book on how not to translate from
English into Italian, claims to have seen "Home-made sausage"
translated as "salsiccia di carne umana" (sausage made from human
Moving to Italy
If you really want to do this, try to get as much of the insane bureacracy
done before leaving home. In the Italian consulate they can send you from
one floor to another, but in Rome they will send you from one side of town
to another. In particular, try to get your degree or other qualifications
declared equipollenti before you go to Italy. Italy doesn't like
recognising foreign qualifications, and I have heard of people being asked
to go to an Italian university for a couple of years to bring their feeble
foreign degree in line with a virile thrusting Italian one.
Getting a permesso di soggiorno involves going to the local
Questura and queuing up for a LONG time. The last time I did this I
joined the queue at about 4.30 in the morning and got my permesso
after midday, but I'm told for Europeans things have improved a lot
If you're anything except white, expect hassle. The last time I flew to
Rome (from London), all the Asian and black people on the plane were
stopped by customs and everyone else went straight through. There is
essentially no racial integration in Italy. Blacks and
arabs (and Poles and who knows who else) you see in Rome will almost all be
washing car windscreens at traffic lights, or trying to sell you paper
hankies, and most of the others are doing awful jobs, possibly illegally.
Italians in the 20-30 age group tell me that everyone in their class at
school was a white Catholic Italian. I expect that when there are more
second (and higher) generation immigrants around things will improve.
Things to do in Rome
- Ice cream and other sweeties
- Go to Giolitti, the ice cream shop near the Pantheon.
- or possibly La Palma, also near the Pantheon, for the orange
chocolate ice cream
- or then again, La Cremeria, right next to the Pantheon, does a
very nice semifreddo al cioccolato..
- and how can I ignore the riso del moro at the Fiocco di
- or the plain chocolate ice cream on sale at Petrini, P. del Alberone 16/a.
(Thanks to Carla Ancona for the exact address).
- Go to the Jewish bakery on Via Portico di Ottavia, just in front of
Piazza delle Cinque Scole and buy a chocolate and ricotta cake. Possibly
the best edible thing on sale anywhere in Rome. Yum! The rectangular fruity
things are nice as well.
- The Austrian bakery a little further along Via Portico di Ottavia sells
very nice (but expensive) things.
- The pizzeria a taglio at about number 5 Via Portico di Ottavia
sells some of the best pizza a taglio in Rome, including some rather
- Toys and Games
- La Città del Sole, via della Scrofa. (and children's department at Piazza della Chiesa Nuova)
- Strategia e Tattica, via del Colosseo. (wargames/RPGs/Magic, almost exclusively)
- Feltrinelli (largo Argentina / via del Babuino / nr. piazza della
- Rizzoli, largo Chigi
- (for technical stuff)Anglo-American Bookshop, via della Vite. (Much cheaper to use
books.com, though). Sci/tech department is NOT in the main store.
- Economy Bookstore, via Torino. (for stuff in English)
- Lion Bookshop, via del Babuino. (for stuff in English)
- Some bookshop whose name I forget, just in front of the parliament
- Sant'Ignazio - a very unusual church just off via del Corso
- San Clemente - another fairly unusual church
- The church on via Veneto just next to the Barberini underground
station. There are chambers decorated with bones taken from thousands of
skeletons, garnished with some mummified monks.
- largo Argentina - 'cos there are lots of cats living there and cats are
- Rome Go Club - Via Clementina, 7, Blackmoor Pub, Thursdays from about
8.30pm to midnight.
- There are lots of chess clubs, the best of which seem to be
- ARS Club Fonte Meravigliosa (EUR)
- Circolo Steinitz (Monte Sacro)
- Accademia Scacchistica (Piazza Bologna)
- Films in English all the time at the Pasquino cinema, vicolo del Piede. (Near Santa Maria in Trastevere).
- Occasional films in whatever the original language is at other cinemas. Look for posters in main cinemas for details.
- Look inside back page of any newspaper for cinema and theatre details, of course.
- Rome Othello Club, via Contessa di Bertinoro, 6, near Piazza Bologna,
in the offices of "Numerica" (or at least it was the last time I heard)
- During the summer, the book fair around Castel Sant'Angelo. There is
usually a board games area there where you can meet some of the best chess
players in Italy and have some chance of finding other games going on as
Things to read/see in Italy in general
- Il Giornalino di Gian Burrasca
- This is a children's book written very early this century. I asked
quite a few Italians what they thought were the best Italian books for
children, and this, Cuore and Pinocchio were mentioned by
almost everyone. I think this is the best of the three. Giannino Stoppani, the
protagonist, is a 9 year-old boy whose relatives call him "Gian Burrasca"
(John Storm) because of his destructive power. He is essentially a turn-of-the-century Tuscan
version of Calvin, and the book is his diary. He often does things with the
best of intentions, especially when he takes adults' instructions at face
value ("always tell the truth", for instance) but somehow succeeds
in shooting relatives, causing his sisters' boyfriends to break up with
them, blowing up his house, and much more besides. Obviously, the language
is both archaic and regional, but you should be able to find an edition
with footnotes and illustrations easily enough. There is also a cartoon
film of the book, and a TV series starring Rita Pavone.
- Carlo Verdone
- Carlo Verdone is a Roman comic actor who has made quite a number of
films. I've only seen a few of them, but I'm told the others are also
reliably high quality. You will pick up quite a bit of romanaccio
from his films.
Borotalco stars Verdone as a total loser who
works as a door-to-door salesman. One of his non-customers teaches him to
bullshit in a big way, and leaves Verdone in charge of his house. Verdone
then sets out to win the girl of his dreams (a successful door-to-door
salesperson for the same company)...
In Acqua e Sapone he plays a school caretaker who pretends to
be the English teacher (who is a priest) in order to get a job as tutor to
a 16-year-old supermodel.
- Not the dreadul children's book, but the left-wing satirical newspaper.
It's green, and you can find it in edicola virtually anywhere in
Italy. I don't think it's all that funny, but it's worth knowing about it.
Disegni and Caviglia do very cruel cartoon strips in it. Il
Male was of course much better...
Things to avoid
- I cattolici popolari
- Very nasty group. Possibly not quite as nasty as scientologists, but well
worth avoiding all the same. At first sight, some kind of Catholic student
group or similar, but actually to all intents and purposes a cultist
movement and/or mafia-like organisation. Avoid at all costs.
- Autonomi, La pantera and so on
- Two extreme left-wing student movements, although la pantera
will have changed its name by now. The autonomi are only students in
the sense that they have registered as such. They don't usually do any
studying or exams or whatever - they like hanging around, protesting
against things, and trying to get beaten up so they can complain about
police brutality. Even the educated ones will cultivate horrendous Roman
accents and use romanaccio as much as
possible to try and sound more proletarian, in much the same way that
Well-Meaning Guardian Readers(TM) at Cambridge try to sound working
- Very unfunny cartoonist, beloved of left-wingers. His main character
(at least historically), Cipputi, is a mechanic in a FIAT factory. He also
does a lot of cartoons for Linus, the left-wing magazine which
also contains lots of cartoon strips. I've never found anything he has done
in the least amusing. His characters frequently stick umbrellas in each
other's bottoms, for instance. I have noticed, however, that Italian
political cartoons often feature employer's anally raping employees,
Berlusconi anally raping political opponents, and so on. Hilarious, eh?
- The buses which go from the Colosseum to the Catacombs are the most
pickpocket-filled in Rome. I think the numbers are 180 and 280. There are
some scumbags who spend all day going from the Colosseum to the Catacombs
and back again. They aren't even subtle - they just open people's backpacks
and take things. The 64 (Roma Termini to the Vatican) has a bad reputation
but I took it all the time and never saw anything.
- If you see a crowd of small, dirty children holding newspapers, be
careful. On a good day they will hold the newspapers up so that you think
"Why are these children holding newspapers in front of me?" and
they will then try to pick your pockets. On a bad day, they will just
surround you and pick your pockets. Adult women gypsies sometimes do the
same kind of thing using a baby instead of a newspaper (usually to female
victims). You can generally avoid trouble by looking at them in a way which
tells them you know who they are. They normally go for people who aren't
paying attention. If you look as though the idea of dismembering small
children doesn't upset you, they will go nowhere near you. You'll almost
certainly never need to hit them - just looking as though you might will
make them avoid you. If you do hit them, no-one will touch you. A policeman
told a friend of mine "You shouldn't hit these children like that: you
should hit them much harder". I once saw a woman on a bus kick one down the
stairs when he tried to grab her handbag. Onlookers applauded.
Am I a racist? I don't think so. I've no idea what gypsies in general get
up to, and if warning people about mobs of dirty children with newspapers
is racist then I'm happy to be racist. Their ethnicity is of no interest to
me, only the fact that they are best avoided. If you think I'm
exaggerating, walk from the Colosseum to Piazza Venezia and think again.
Also, if you get on a bus carrying a newspaper or unfolded map, expect people
to watch you with extreme suspicion.
- Breathtakingly dire board game aimed at girls, produced by an Italian
games company. There are various magnetic cards representing boys and
girls, and the aim of the game is to try to arrange successful dates
between them. To find out how successful a date is, you have to put the
cards representing the two halves of the couple together and insert them in
a machine. This then plays different recordings depending on how well
things have gone - people phoning up to ask for date and being turned down,
date accepted but person not turning up, etc. Actually, though, the game
would appear to be secretly subversive, because if you put two boys' cards
or two girls' cards in the machine, the date is much more likely to go
well. This could have something to do with the fact that the interests and
hobbies mentioned on the cards depend strongly on gender, so same-gender
couples are much more likely to work.
Internet access from/to Italy
There are quite a few service providers in Italy these days. I've only got
direct experience of two of them... which is why only two entries below are
hyperlinked. NB The information below dates back to 1995.
- Big Rome BBS. Base price for accounts is zero, so if you live elsewhere
and want to practise your Italian in chat mode or in conferences, this is a
good way to do it. The base price doesn't cover email to or from other
systems, ftp, or anything except local stuff. But if you're telnetting into
AgorÓ you don't need ftp, mail, etc.
- no direct experience of this one
- The other big Rome BBS. For 200 and something thousand lire a year you
get email, slip, local conferences, news, ftp, gopher, etc. etc. I have an
English area on it.