My first job teaching was as an ESL teacher. It’s always a little funny listening to someone speak English as a second language. Their pronunciation of certain words and the roundabout sentences they use to express themselves seem adorable if not harmless. But how do WE sound when speaking a second language? In many cases our mistakes are earth shattering for us and life scarring for them. I travel to Italy for work and pleasure quite often. Here are the top five mistakes most Americans make in Italy.
1. There’s a BIG (and completely inappropriate) difference between “pecorino” and “pecorina.”
Pecorino cheese is the cheese that comes from the pecora, or sheep. When asking for it, it’s important to get the gender ending correct.
“Nonna, per favore dammi il pecorino” – Grandmother, would you please pass me the aged sheep’s cheese.
“Nonna, per favore dammi la pecorina” – Grandmother, would you please bend over so that I may enter you doggy-style.
2. Pepperoni isn’t the same thing in Italy that it is in the U.S.
Pepperoni Pizza represents 36 percent of all pizzas sold in the USA. But if you’re looking to try your favorite topping on your next trip to Italy, beware! Ordering pepperoni pizza in Italy will yield a pie topped with roasted red bell peppers or “pepperoni”. My guess is that you’ll want to order the salame piccante (spicy sausage, known in America as pepperoni).
3. The easiest way to insult an Italian: Order your pasta “al dente.”
Italians know how to cook their pasta, don’t ask for it al dente.
4. Mixing up your masculine and feminine forms of fruit terminology could end up being pretty offensive, especially if you’re talking about figs.
In Italian all fruit is feminine and the tree from which it comes is masculine, for example apple is la mela, apple tree is il melo.
That is, all fruit but figs. Figs and fig trees are always masculine, using the feminine ending means pussy — don’t get caught asking to buy a bag of vaginas from the fruit vendor because you ordered fica instead of fico.
Fun Fact: Fika means “coffee time” in Swedish, hence the name of the chain in NYC. But you’ll often overhear Italians visiting New York wondering why there is a coffee shop called … Well, you know, keep your ears open for those Italians outside of Fika, they’re hysterical to listen in on, even if you don’t understand what they’re saying.
5. Never order a “latte” in Italy. Never.
I witnessed the bitchiest of bitchy girls order a “latte” at a cafè in English. The barista was confused and tried to understand better what she meant by speaking the only language he knew, Italian. The girl raised her voice and in English said, “Just give me a latte”. I giggled to myself, she turned and shot me a piercing, soul crushing glance that only she could produce. Ten seconds later she received her glass of milk, which is exactly what she ordered. Caffe latte, is of course what she was trying to get. I watched her glance up at the barista and storm out, never to be seen again.And NEVER order a cappuccino in the afternoon.