Now before I go on, a club member wrote to complain that ‘Buondì’ is not standard Italian, which is absolutely true.
According to him, and the Italian friends he consulted, I should say ‘Buongiorno’, which IS standard Italian, but is not what people actually say. It’s way too formal.
Yesterday, for instance, I was summoned to meet our school’s landlord.
The meeting took place in his fourth-floor office, which has art on the walls and a picture window overlooking Bologna’s cathedral and the roofs of this medieval city.
Inherited wealth has its privilages.
‘Buongiorno’ was entirely appropriate in the circumstances, along with the use of ‘Signore’ and his surname.
But to his friendly dog (who brought a favourite toy to show us, and sat under the table squeaking it with his jaws throughout the meeting) ‘Ciao’ was much more suitable.
In Italian you have to choose the most appropriate salutation for the situation.
When I leave my house in the morning and wave to the various neighbours getting out motorbikes or cars from their garages, or setting off to walk their kids to the local primary school, I’ll choose what expression to use based on who it is I’m speaking to and how I feel about them or want them to feel about me.
For instance I’ll say ‘Ciao’ to kids and friends.
But ‘Salve’ to other neighbours – adults I know by sight and have met many times before, but who aren’t particular friends.
‘Buongiorno’ will be reserved for an official – say the local police, who’ve come to check someone’s residency – or to anyone I want to be frosty with.
Quite often I get it wrong.
A friendly neighbour will say ‘Ciao’ and I’ll reply ‘Buongiorno’ without thinking.
They’ll then think they’ve made a faux pas and will try to correct it, so as to avoid offending me, with another ‘Buon giorno’.
At which point I’ll wake up, and realise that, due to inattention to the niceties of the situation, I’ve come across as snobbish and unfriendly, or as a foreigner who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
When I go to bank the school’s takings, though, it’s much simpler.
Imagine working in a bank and trying to be friendly with regular clients, more formal with people you haven’t seen before, while all the while ensuring that younger people are greeted in an appropriately informal way and older, or more senior, people are accorded respect.
I’m a regular, but I’m also older and (as a company director) more ‘senior’. Tough decision for the teller…
So the Bolognese guy behind the counter always says the same thing:
Buondì (Good day!)
To which I reply:
‘Buondì’, by the way, is always a brand of snack – the sort of thing that you might give your kids to eat at school, mid-morning.
Anyway, do feel free to write in with criticisms, complaints and so on. They make it easier to get the creative juices flowing when I have to find something to write about, three times a week.
Talking of which, three things:
Club members responded to Wednesday’s article by leaving comments, which was great.
I’d given up trying to encourage this, but when it happens, I absolutely approve of this sort of interaction, which is interesting for everyone, whether commenting or just reading what others have written.
The comments show up at the bottom of the article on the website. Why not take a look?
N.b. First time commenters have to be manually approved by me (as an anti-spam measure), which can take from minutes to hours, so be patient.
There’s also a small risk that your comment will be automatically marked as spam, and so not published. Usually I’ll spot this after a day or two and publish it anyway.
So if you write a comment and it doesn’t show up, feel free to poke me. Then if you don’t get a reply it’ll be because I’m teaching or sleeping, so it’s back to being patient…
2. Watch out for the marketing blitz!
Don’t want to hear about the ‘Summer Sale’ next week?
Four times a year, I run a promotional sale. This is a chance for our regular online students to buy more lesson credits at a significant discount (new students too, of course!)
And it’s an opportunity to stock up on ebooks and the like at a great saving!
One of those times is next week, when I will be writing only ‘commercial’ emails for the entire week. Our teachers need work and the club has bills to pay, so I make no apologies.
But if you’d rather not read that sort of content, you have two options:
a.) just ignore emails from me for the entire week. Things will go back to normal on Monday 9th of July.
Or b.) unsubscribe from the club mailing list. Every email sent has an unsubscribe link, normally at the bottom. Find it, click it and set your preference to ‘Unsubscribe’. You won’t be bothered again.
3. New set of ‘conversation prompts’
Today’s free material is a new set of conversation prompts, the eighteenth!
This one is on ‘Il passato e il futuro‘.
It’s intended to be a basis for a conversation, or for a conversation lesson.
The idea is that speaking practice is easier, and more fun, if you have a topic and a series of questions which can ‘prompt’ conversation.
Click this link to take a look.
You can just read the prompts, but the material works best if you do it with a classmate or an online teacher (more about that next week!)
All 18 sets of conversation prompts published so far can be found here:
More feedback from club members: “I’m fed up of hearing about Sweden and Swedish.”
Message received and understood.
In an hour, I have my first TURKISH lesson!
I’m choosing languages ending in ‘-ish’ now: English, Swedish, Turkish (Spanish is on the horizon…)
No, just kidding.
I worked in Turkey for three years way back when, and used to speak the language confidently. But then I learnt Italian, and now Swedish, and I can’t seem to say anything in Turkish any longer, which is a shame.
So for years I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind to go back and try to reactivate the knowledge that I hope is still there somewhere.
I might write about how others can do the same thing – start again with a language studied years ago, or once spoken but now inaccessible.
I confess, I’m a little nervous.
First lessons are always an unknown (for the teacher, too.)
And in this case, I have the additional problem that whenever I want to say something in Turkish, Swedish comes out.
Hopefully, a little practice will fix that!
A lunedì, allora.
Alan K says
I would leave more comments, including that I enjoyed the Swedish travelogue, but sadly it’s the time, always the time…
However I’ll leave a brief one today.
It could be a north / centre / south thing but when I was in Roma I was usually greeted with “buongiorno” whether it was at a hotel, in a shop or restaurant or whatever. But it was always delivered in a light, airy tone that could never be taken for being excessively formal. Granted the people at places like hotels and restaurants already knew my name and probably assumed from it that posso parlare solo inglese, and that therefore I would be more likely to recognise “buongiorno” than any other form… but it seemed far too natural to have been thought through.
The only time that I was thrown was in the relatively early afternoon in Siena when I walked into a shop and was greeted with “buonasera”, since I didn’t realise that the time that that’s sometimes used after lunch, depending on which part of the country you’re in. Yes, THAT was stiff and formal. But Siena was the only place in Italia that I didn’t really feel welcome, so it’s perhaps not quite so surprising.
In Umbria I have noticed “buona sera” – almost sung – from early afternoon, in circumstances without formality at all.
Buona notte da Nuova Zelanda
Nice summary of greetings and formality usage in Italy. Any insights on this aspect of Italian culture are always useful and you made it very readable by all the context you gave – the dog squeaking his toy was a nice touch. Also, I really like the latest conversation prompts. They are what I call icebreakers and can get anyone talking.