If you are in Italy and you want to enjoy your holidays in a truly Italian style, you should get to know some habits, typical of when we Italians sit to eat and drink together: they may come handy especially if you are planning to spend time with the locals.
As everyone knows, we are very fond of words… We like talking and we do so, in set phrases, also before starting a meal or a friendly drinking session: always keep these expressions in mind!
Although saying “enjoy your meal,” the equivalent for buon appetito, may seem strange to an anglophone audience, it is a must in Italy. This simple phrase hides that very culinary culture Italy is so famous for and which is deeply rooted into the country’s traditions: it is good custom to say it before eating, a popular routine in many Italian houses, a way of being polite at the table.
This habit is usually associated to another one: waiting for other people to eat. If you are served before the rest of your dining companions, you should always wait for everyone to receive their plate before digging into yours, unless you are expressely told by other diners you can go ahead.
If you have lunch or dinner with Italians, it is good to respect these simple rules to be polite.
If you are having an aperitivo, some cocktails and, generally, every time you have an alcoholic drink, keep in mind Italians will probably toast to something. Our favorite expression to go with it is the ubiquitous cin cin, (the equivalent of the English cheers), which is known and used all over the country.
If it does not sound much as an Italian word, it is because, in fact, it is not: it was inherited from the Chinese via English people during the Victorian age. The Chinese term ch’ing, meaning “not at all,” was used twice by traders and sailormen when drinking. Today, cin cin is used everywhere when having a brindisi, although you may come across other expressions, such as alla nostra, alla salute, as well as some regional and dialectal variations.
Other famous expressions about food and wine
As you would expect by people who love words and food as much as we do, there is more to food-related cheering around than buon appetito and cin cin. If you sit at the table with Italians, you may come across other relatively popular expressions: here they come!
- L’appetito vien mangiando: “eat and you’ll get hungry”, quite literally. If people are not too keen on eating, we usually invite them to try anyway by using this famous sentence.
- Chi lavora mangia, chi non lavora mangia, beve e dorme: ” if you work, you eat, if you don’t, you eat, drink and sleep”. Perhaps a bitter reminder that the least responsible among us, manage just as well…
- Chi non beve in compagnia o è un ladro o è una spia: “if you don’t drink in company, you’re either a thief or a spy”. This is a way to say that all those who have secrets or something to hide do not drink with others for fear of disclosing too much, which brings us to another popular saying among Italians: in vino veritas which, in the language of our great ancestors, Latin, means “truth lies in wine.”
- Bacco, Tabacco e Venere riducono l’uomo in cenere: “Bacchus, tobacco and Venus reduce man to ashes”, which mean a life made of, well… sex, drugs and rock and roll will wear you down and burn you out!
When you are in Italy, you may come across dozens of these sayings: never feel afraid to ask your Italian companions to explain to you what they mean: there is often a grain of old fashioned wisdom behind them and, if anything, you will feel closer to that beautiful language that Italian is.