Buon giorno (bu-on-jour-no)
Don’t be frugal with the use of this. Belt this out as often as you can. You can never be too respectful to the people who gave the world pizza, risotto and spaghetti.
Say, “Buon giorno!” as you enter a small shop, as you walk into a booth, as you sit beside somebody in the lounge or waiting area. You can also use it to greet the italian discdoggers. If you can, extend a firm handshake.
Buon pomeriggio (bu-on po-mer-eej-jio)
You use this one around lunch time until around 3 or 4 p.m. But don’t be surprised if native speakers open up with a “Buon giorno!” Many Italians skip “Buon pomeriggio” and just use “Buon giorno” during the daytime.
The variant “Buona giornata” is used to wish somebody to “have a great day” when leaving the place or just after saying goodbye (arrivederci).
Buona sera (bu-on-a-say-ra)
You can use “Buona sera” after four in the afternoon. The variant “Buona serata” is used to wish somebody a great evening when leaving the place.
Buona notte (bu-ona-not-tay)
This is what you say right before you retire for the night, or when you believe the other person is about to go to sleep.
Yeah, you’ve heard this one in all those Italian movies you’ve been watching to prepare for your trip. This is the equivalent of a “hi” or “hello” and often heard amongst friends. Say “Ciao a tutti!” (Hello to all!) to address a group. “Ciao” can also mean goodbye. Its meaning is often read in the context of a situation. If the person is walking away from you, then the meaning is pretty obvious.
“Ciao,” although easy on foreign lips, is a bit informal and should only be used to greet a friend, people of your own age bracket or people you can be casual with. For people older than you and those you’re not familiar with, stick with your “Buon giorno” and “Buena serra.”
This is another word you should pass around as often as possible. It’s one of those words that make you and the receiver both feel good. Try it! It’ll also ensure even more stellar service at the restaurant.
Grazie mille (gra-tsee mee-lay)
Another alternative to “Grazie” is “Grazie mille”.” “Mille” means “thousand.” So literally you’re saying “a thousand graces.”
“Prego” is often translated in textbooks as “You’re welcome” or “Don’t mention it.” But while “prego” is what you say after “grazie,” it also has quite a number of other uses. For example, a shop attendant could utter, “Prego?” to signify their intent to serve you. It’s like they’re saying, “How can I help you?”
Or if somebody asks if a seat is taken, a “prego” response would be taken to mean “be my guest.” The word can also mean “After you,” used to allow an older lady, for example, to enter a room first.
If someone talks in Italian too fast, simply declare, “Prego.” This would mean, “I beg your pardon?” or “Please talk louder/slower.”
“Prego” is like the olive oil of the Italian language, you use it on everything. And on your Italian trip, you’ll be hearing it more than you’ll be speaking it, so watch out for the word.
No matter the emergency, you don’t just approach a native speaker to ask them something without the courtesy of saying, “Excuse me.” They’re probably busy with their own lives, minding their own business, so you don’t want to just barge in with guns blazing.
Have the courtesy of a “scusa” so they can give you their attention and point you to the nearest bathroom. You can use “Scusa” with friends and colleagues. A more formal way is “Mi scusi”.
Mi scusi (mee scoo-see)
“Mi scusi” is how you open the communication lines with a complete stranger. It’s more formal. It shows that you’re attuned to Italian social dynamics and are giving the person due courtesy.
Mi dispiace (Mee dee-spee-a-chay)
In the rush of following your itinerary, trying to cover as much geography as possible, it’s possible to get into little misunderstandings or mishaps with a native speaker. You can apologize with a “Mi dispiace.”
By the way, native speakers also use “scusa” to mean “I’m sorry.” So don’t get overly sensitive if a native speaker bumps into you and gives you a “scusa.” They’re not being arrogant, they’re apologizing and are probably just in a hurry to get somewhere.
Just as you announce your entrance into a shop with a “Buon giorno,” you should also announce your exit. Don’t just quickly fade into oblivion. And besides, you would want the other person to have a good impression of that “American tourist” who was extremely courteous.
There are many different ways you can do this, just as there are many ways to say goodbye in English.
Until we see each other again (formal)
Si (see) means “yes”
No (no) means “no)
That’s simple enough. But what if you’re not sure of the answer? How can you express uncertainty? You can say:
Forse — Maybe
Può darsi — Could be
Non lo so — I’m not sure – I don’t know
Penso di no — I don’t think so
On the other hand, if you’re dead sure about something, you can say:
Ma certo — Definitely/Of course
So when a local asks if you like their country, tell the truth and say, “Sì, sì, ma certo!”
Per favore (pair fav-aw-ray)
You can end every other sentence with “Per favore” and sound like an extremely polite tourist.
“Per favore” is often used to wrap up sentences especially involving favors, requests or demands like, “Aiutami, per favore” (Please help me). Or when you want to tell a gelato owner the flavor you want, you can say, “Quello, per favore,” (That one, please) while pointing to the red velvet piece of heaven you had your eye on.
Non parlo italiano (Non par-low ee-talyano)
Parli inglese? (par-lee een-glay-say)
Come ti chiami? (com-eh tee key-amee)
Literally, you’re being asked what you call yourself or what other people call you
Mi chiamo (Mee key-amow)
“Mi chiamo” is always followed by your first name… unless your name is Bond, James Bond
“Piacere” mean “pleasure”
Come va? (Comay va?)
If you need a more formal way, you can use “Come sta?”
If you’re doing well, respond with a “bene” (fine) or “molto bene” (very well). Don’t forget your “grazie” and say, “Molto bene, grazie.” (I’m fine, thank you.)
If you’re so-so, you can say, “Così così.”
Dove abiti? (dov-e ha-bee-tee?)
Sometimes also “Di dove sei” (where are you from?)
Native speakers the world over are always interested in their guests—their nationality, where they come from, where they live. These questions during small talk signify genuine interest from the other person. Have a ready answer through sentences like:
Abito a London. — I live in London.
Sono di Chicago. — I’m from Chicago.
Sono americano. — I’m American.
Che lavoro fai? (ke lav-o-ro fa-ee)
You can say, “Sono dottore.” (I’m a doctor.) But only if you’re really a doctor.
Think of “sono” as the equivalent of the English phrase “I am,” and you can pretty much use it for things and facts pertaining to yourself like:
Sono sposato. — I’m married.
Sono stanco. — I’m tired.
Dove? (do-vay _?)
You can use “dove” followed by the name of your destination:
Dov’è il museo? — Where is the museum?
Other places in Italian:
Il teatro —Theater
Il supermercato — Supermarket
La stazione — Train station
L’aeroporto — Airport
L’ospedale — Hospital
La stazione di polizia — Police station
Il parco — Park
Il centro — Town center
Vorrei andare a … (vo-ray an-da-ray a …) [if you know the name of your destination]
Vorrei andare qui (vo-ray an-da-ray kwee) [pointing to your destination on the map]
Mi sono perso (mee so-no per-so) [male]
Mi sono persa (mee so-no per-sa) [female]
Come posso arrivarci? (ko-mo pos-so a-rree-var-chee?)
Potrebbe indicarmelo sulla carta? (po-tray-bay een-di-kar-may-lo soo-la kar-ta?)
Mi scusi, posso farle una domanda? (mee skoo-si, posso far-lay oo-na do-man-da?)