Italian Idioms You Can Use In Your Daily Life As An Expat In Italy
Very often, expats living in Italy feel self-conscious about their accent or their grammar mistakes. But it turns out that pronunciation or linguistic accuracy is not what’s giving you away. If you’ve been in Italy for quite some time and people can still tell you’re an expat, your vocabulary bank might be in desperate need of a few Italian idioms.
Do you want to blend in with the locals? Memorize our updated list of the most common Italian idioms and no one will ever suspect you weren’t actually born in Sicily.
1. Non mi rompere le scatole
Literal meaning: Don’t break my boxes.
Use: Is there someone in your life who always finds the way to get on your nerves? Use this Italian idiom to tell them to stop annoying you and see how they will never break your… boxes… again. (Yeah, in case you haven’t noticed, this is a variation of a slightly ruder idiom).
Per la centesima volta, non voglio comprare niente. Non mi rompere le escatole. (For the hundredth time, I don’t want to buy anything. Stop being so annoying.)
2. Stare con le mani in mano
Literal meaning: To hold your hands with your own hand.
For people who rely so heavily on their body language to convey meaning, it’s easy to see why this is one of the best Italian idioms with a negative connotation. Imagine not being able to make gestures with your hands while you speak such an expressive, corporal language as Italian!
Jokes aside, this Italian idiom is used to call out someone who’s doing nothing while everybody else is busy at work.
Puoi aiutarci a portare una delle borse? O sei troppo impegnato con le mani in mano? (Can you help us carry one of the bags? Or are you too tired after doing precisely nothing?)
3. Da che pulpito viene la predica!
Literal meaning: “Look from which pulpit this sermon is coming!”
One of the most common Italian idioms to expose people, this phrase is a perfect equivalent for the English expression “Look who’s talking!”. And just like its counterpart, it’s a wonderful phrase to call out hypocritical people who never do as they preach!
Pensi che dovrei bere di meno? Da che pulpito viene la predica! Posso ricordarti che hai appena finito la tua terza birra? (You think I should drink less? Look who’s talking! May I remind you just finished your third beer?)
4. Affogare in un bicchier d’acqua
Literal meaning: “To drown in a glass of water”
It would take a very dramatic person to think they can drown in such a small amount of water, right? Well, that’s exactly the kind of people this common Italian idiom is for.
If you know someone who gets easily overwhelmed by silly things, use this phrase to wake them up, encourage them to stop running in circles, and try to solve whatever little problem is worrying them.
Stai davvero piangendo perché non riesci a trovare il tuo paio di occhiali da lettura in più? Come ami affogare in un bicchiere d’acqua! (You’re really crying because you can’t find your extra pair of reading glasses? How you love drowning in a glass of water!)
5. Conosco i miei polli
Literal meaning: “I know my chickens”
Ever tried telling your niece that the makeover she is subjecting you to is not going very well?
Then, you know what happens. She snatches the mascara from your hand with a defiant look and says something like “I can handle this. I know what I’m doing.”
Conosco i miei polli, one of the best Italian idioms as far as we are concerned, should be said with the same air of confidence you would find in a 4-year-old make-up artist when you want to say that something is right up your alley.
—Sei sicuro che il guacamole dovrebbe sembrare arancione? (Are you sure guacamole is supposed to look orange?)
—Oh zitto, conosco i miei polli! (Oh shut up, I know what I’m doing!)
6. Rompere il ghiaccio
Literal meaning: “to break the ice”
Rompere il ghiaccio is not only one of the most common Italian idioms out there, it’s also one of the most straightforward entries in this list. As in English, this idiom is used to express a need to undo social awkwardness, especially between two people who have just met.
—Le hai davvero chiesto del suo ex? Mio Dio! (You really asked her about her ex? Dude!)
—Stavo solo cercando di rompere il ghiaccio. (I was just trying to break the ice.)
7. Morto un papa, se ne fa un altro
Literal meaning: “If one pope dies, another one will be made”.
This Italian idiom is used to remind people that life goes on even if something really sad has just happened. Your Italian girlfriend left you for someone with better knowledge of Italian idioms? Don’t worry, you’ll find someone who’ll find your language mistakes endearing. If even the pope isn’t irreplaceable, a random girl you met at a party shouldn’t be either.
—Ma l’amavo così tanto! (But I loved her so much!)
—Dai, l’hai incontrata lo scorso fine settimana. Del resto, morto un papa, se ne fa un altro. (Oh come on, you met her last weekend. Besides, when one pope dies another one is made.)
8. Alla come viene, viene
Literal meaning: “It comes out as it comes out”
This Italian idiom meaning “it is what it is” gives the sense that something has been done in a careless way, or showing little attention to detail, which means you won’t want to hear this one from a waiter in a restaurant.
—Ti avverto, la zuppa è un po’ fredda. E ha troppo sale. (I’m afraid the soup is a bit cold. And it has too much salt.)
—Bene, alla come viene, viene, immagino. (Well, it is what it is, I guess.)
9. Non vedo l’ora
Literal meaning: “I don’t see the hour”
If you’ve ever been extremely excited about a future event, you know exactly what this common Italian idiom is about. Whether you’re thinking about your next holiday, a visit from your Italian boyfriend or that delicious pasta dish bubbling away in the oven, you can say non vedo l’ora to express that you can’t wait for something to happen.
Mancano ancora due mesi al concerto di Tiziano Ferro. Non vedo l’ora! (It’s still two months until the Tiziano Ferro concert. I can’t wait!)
Now that you know how common Italian idioms can make your conversations more natural and colourful, what can you do to practice them?
If you ask us, it’s a no-brainer. While reading blogs, listening to music or subscribing to language-learning podcasts can help, the best way to improve your conversational skills and integrate into the Italian society is to take a course with a native Italian teacher. Whether you prefer to learn in a group or individually, we offer tailor-made courses both online and in person for learners of all ages and levels. Contact us now and we’ll match you with an Italian tutor for a free lesson!