Polite in Italy?

Oct 15th, 2003, 07:32 PM
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Polite in Italy?

I'm a woman who's travelling alone to Italy next month--my first visit! I've tried to learn some phrases, but my Italian's very limited. I'd like to be able to say, "I don't speak Italian very well. Do you speak English?" (Seems a bit less abrupt than just "Do you speak English?") Every online translation service gives me a slightly different phrase? Can anyone help? Thank you.
Diana57 is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 10:56 PM
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Mi dispiace, ma non parlo bene l'Italiano. Lei parla inglese?

An approximate phonetic spelling would be: "Me dis-pya-chay, mah non parlo bay-nay leetal-yano. Lay-ee parla eeng-lay-zay?"

= I'm sorry, I don't speak Italian well. Do you speak English? (using the polite "you" form)

NB: for want of anything better, I've used the letter "y" to indicate the right vowel pronunciation - but in Italian you wouldn't say the words with a pronounced "y" sound at the end.
hanl is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 06:46 AM
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Rick Steves' has great little phrase books for just those common phrases you mention. It was indispensable during our trip! The only place we really were on our own for a bit (language wise) was the Island of Elba though! English is more prevalent in Italy than I realized!
applejacks is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 07:00 AM
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Hi Diana,

A less correct, but apparently acceptable phrase, that I used was
"No parle Italiano. Parla Inglese, per favore?"

I suggest adding "per favore" (please) to hanl's suggestion, and adding "grazie" (thank you) when the person you are speaking to switches to English.
ira is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 07:53 AM
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Your sentence is not correct. The correct one is:
Hanl expressed more correctly the sentence.
BATUFFOLINA is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 08:05 AM
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This may be a sort of off-beat idea, but do you know how sometimes you speak to someone in France and they'll respond in perfect English, "I'm sorry, but I don't speak English, you'll have to speak French" and you automatically assume because they said that so perfectly, they are being stubborn and just don't WANT to speak English? At least I hear people complain about that very issue all the time. By the same token I suppose if you learn to say the full phrase and speak it in perfect Italian, locals may think you're being a stubborn American who really can speak their language but doesn't want to. Does that make sense? I'm not saying that you shouldn't attempt, and that "grazie" and "per favore" aren't a good idea -- just that I wouldn't worry about being absolutely to the letter correct.
Patrick is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 08:07 AM
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ira, its a sad day to see you caught and exposed. You should be ashamed of yourself to use such poor Italian! Comprende-me-so?

And to think I have been following your advice as the travel gossip. Must all of my bright hero's have week clay feet? First Clinton and now ira! The world has gone mad!
Oct 16th, 2003, 08:22 AM
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Here's my take on this:

I would say
- Mi scusi (mee-skOO-see)
- Non posso palare Italiano (nohn pOH-so pah-lAH-reh ee-tAH-lEE-AH-noh)

This would mean: "excuse me, I cannot speak Italian". It is the polite way of saying, rather than "I don't speak Italian", which some (not all) people may interpret as "I don't speak Italian because I don't want to..."

"to speak" is "parlare", and depending on the subject, it becomes parlo (I speak), parle (you speak), parla (he/she speaks), parliano (we speak) etc. etc.

same with "to be possible/able" which is "potere". I am not able becomes "posso"

so "I am not able to speak Italian" becomes "non posso parlare Italiano"

Sorry, I only took 12 italian lessons, but that is what I remember.
Johnmango is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 08:39 AM
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Hi Degas,

I must admit that languages are not my forte. However, I did try very hard. My lady wife tells me that it was better than my original, "No capeesha da Italiano".

Actually, I learned all of my Italian by watching Chico Marx.
ira is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 08:50 AM
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Per favore, mi puo dire.... ?

Please, could you tell me... ?
Another useful phrase. Much preferable to screaming "Quanto costa?" (how much does it cost?) or "Dov'e il gabinetto?" (where's the bathroom?)
Koshka is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 09:02 AM
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ira, you are still my travel hero, even if you speak broken italian, snare food when your partner is not looking, stick extra rolls in your fanny pack, and always ask for a doggie bag at expensive restuarants.

By the way, I learned all my european hand gestures and facial expressions by watching the Three Stooges! I watch a refresh film before each trip - it keeps me sharp!

Kiow and Arhee-yu-dare-shee!
Oct 16th, 2003, 09:20 AM
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Johmango, actually it is: Parlo (I speak) parli (you speak informal), parla (you speak formal, he/she speaks)
jmb67 is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 09:35 AM
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yes of course, just fast finger ... and i was doing also this at work. My teacher would spank me if she hears about this.



I was also taught that one should always be polite when first talking to a stranger - unless you get "permission" to be chummy.

What I mean is that in Italian, there are certain words you use to show politeness, that's why you say "parla inglese" - "you speak Italian?" because Parla is the polite form for "you speak", otherwise you say "parli inglese".


Johnmango is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 09:39 AM
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Hey John,

You must keep in mind that some of us are language challeneged.

I found that I was having difficulty with "Signore"; I kept saying "Signora". So I switched to Spanish, "Senor".
ira is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 10:57 AM
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This thread reminds me of our recent trip to Italy where my wife had a terrible time with even simple Italian words. She studied Spanish in school and kept mixing up the simple words that are so similar in the two languages. She was constantly using gracias instead of grazie. She never did get it right the entire trip. On the night we arrived home we went to eat at a local Mexican restaurant. When the native Mexican waitress brought the food my wife finally say "Grazie". I couldn't stop laughing.
BoulderCO is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 11:07 AM
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I think that if you speak Spanish you may "recognize" some Italian words because they are so similar.

I guess if you make an effort to speak the language while visitng another county, in matter how badly one speaks, it is always appreciated. I took a beginners Italian class (12 sessions) before going to Italy (just came back last week), and I had no problem ordering things in Italian, the only problem is that people would reply in Italian speaking like firing a machine gun, and I would always have this blank look on my face, sometimes nodding in some sort of acknowledgement, and people would usually laugh, and soemtimes correcting what I should say because it was too polite etc.

Johnmango is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 01:10 PM
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Even if you butcher a foreign language but you do that with a friendly smile everyone is willing to help you and make you feel comfortable..The magic of a Smile works all the time..,
kismetchimera is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 02:53 PM
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Hi John,

Unfortunately, I don't speak Spanish either.

When I was younger, I would sudy the languages of the places I was visiting. It turned out that I was always one country behind.

Eventually, I just gave up. I now try to learn the various polite phrases and, as kismetchimera notes, "The magic of a Smile works all the time".
ira is offline  
Oct 17th, 2003, 06:37 AM
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Thanks for all the helpful responses! I especially appreciate the phonetic spellings. Patrick--your point about possibly coming across as a "fluent but stubborn" American is well taken. Maybe my semi-Southern accent will help dispel that impression! Applejacks--I'll look for the Rick Steves phrase book you recommended. Grazie to everyone.
Diana57 is offline  
Oct 17th, 2003, 07:09 AM
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Non posso ... I think not. Certainly most are able to speak italian, provided they study the language. The truth is you do not speak it. Non parlo ...
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