What would you say if you were invited to an Italian house at dinner? What would you say to your host? What would you bring? Would you know what’s acceptable and what it’s not?
You see, learning another language is learning another culture too.
We’re often not aware of the presence and role of our own culture, so learning about another culture (a.k.a. developing intercultural competence) is necessary so that we understand a couple of things:
- that there is no right way of doing things
- our behavior is influenced by our beliefs
And if we learn about cultural differences, we’ll feel more comfortable and confident when talking with someone from a different country.
That doesn’t mean, in your case, that you’ll have to behave exactly like an Italian. It means that you just have to know why Italians behave the way they do and find a compromise between your culture and the Italian culture
If you live in Italy or plan to do so, it is even more relevant for you to learn which behaviors are appropriate and which ones aren’t in Italy.
But if you only talk with your Italian friends while still being in your country, you’ll only have to keep in mind that what’s acceptable to you might not be acceptable to them, and vice versa. And, of course, your Italian friends will have to do the same for you.
One way of learning about the Italian culture is by observing the Italians, how they behave and what they say to each other in different situations.
But if you don’t have that chance, or you’re just curious about it (you landed on this article to take something with you, after all), here is a particular situation where a lot of culture knowledge is needed.
You’re going to see what happens when you’re invited at dinner to your Italian friends’ house.
What you’re going to see in the next section is taken from books and articles and updated with own my personal experience as someone who grew up with Italian habits and learned how to live with different cultural habits.
A dinner with the Italians
When you have dinner at an Italian person’s house, if you come from a culture where dinner happens around 5 or 6 pm, you’ll be surprised to see that dinner can start around 7 pm or even around 8:30. Sometimes even around 9 pm, depending on the region.
Usually, guests bring a gift like a bottle of wine (much appreciated) or a dessert (homemade or bought in a pastry shop). If you bring something taken from a shop, make sure you hide the price by remving the label or by covering the numbers with ink. We don’t show how much gifts cost, and doing this would be considered really rude. Hosts will thank you and sometimes say, as you will see, “non dovevi” (you shouldn’t have). Don’t take it literally, they were really happy about your gift.
Another thing to know is that people usually compliment the friend who cooked for everybody. And if you bring a homemade dessert, expect to receive compliments about your cooking abilities too. Oh, and if it’s the first time that you visit someone’s house, compliments about the choice of the furniture, colors, and cleaningness are always well accepted and appreciated.
And, one more thing, don’t expect the dinner to end soon. If the conversation goes on, the dinner is just an excuse to spend more time together and chat until you’re all tired and really need to leave.
With this in mind, let’s jump to the next section.
A sample conversation at an Italian dinner
What you’re going to read is a made up but plausible conversation that might happen at dinner in an Italian house. Again, this is taken from my experience as it’s really hard to find sample conversations in books and online, but this is more or less how it would go.
You will notice that the English translation won’t and can’t be word by word. This is because Italian and English have got two different structures and two different ways of conveying the same message.
So, the best thing to do is to learn the Italian sentences as they are knowing that their English translation will be slightly different.
|Giulia: Ciao!||Giulia: Hi!|
|Laura: Ciao!||Laura: Hi!|
|Giulia: Ti ho portato il gelato.||Giulia: I brought you ice cream.|
|Laura: Grazie, ma non dovevi! Lo metto in freezer per dopo||Laura: Thank you, but you shouldn’t have. I’ll put it in the freezer for later.|
|Sara: Ciao, scusate il ritardo.||Sara: Hi, sorry for being late.|
|Laura: Figurati, scusa tu per il disordine.||Laura: Don’t mention it, sorry for the mess.|
|Sara: Ma va, se hai sempre la casa perfetta.||Sara: Come on, your house is always perfect.|
|Laura: Comunque sto facendo le lasagne vegetariane. Sono un po’ in ritardo, mettetevi comode.||Laura: By the way, I’m making vegetarian lasagna. I’m a bit late, make yourself comfortable.|
|Giulia: Ok. Bello quel quadro! Dove l’hai preso?||Giulia: Ok. Nice painting over there! Where did you get it?|
|Laura: Me l’ha regalato una mia amica che dipinge.||Laura: A friend gave it to me. She’s a painter.|
|Giulia: È proprio bello.||Giulia: It’s really nice.|
|Sara: Sì, anche a me piace molto. (A Laura) Ti serve una mano in cucina?||Sara: Yes, I like it a lot as well. (To Laura) Do you need a hand in the kitchen?|
|Laura: No, grazie, è pronto adesso. Se mi passate i piatti vi metto le lasagne.||Laura: No, thanks, the meal is ready now. If you pass me your plates, I’ll put the lasagna in them.|
|[A tavola]||[At the table]|
|Laura, Giulia e Sara: Buon appetito!||Laura, Giulia e Sara: Enjoy your meal!|
|Giulia: Buone! Cosa ci hai messo?||Giulia: Tasty! What did you put in there?|
|Laura: Funghi, carote, zucchine e besciamella.||Laura: Mashrooms, carrots, courgettes and béchamel.|
|Giulia: Veramente buone! Complimenti!||Giulia: Really tasty! Well done!|
|Sara: Sì, davvero, brava!||Sara: Yes, really, well done!|
This was just a sample conversation. Of course, it can play out in other different ways, but I hope that I gave you a taster of what you can expect at an Italian dinner.
To sum up
- Learning another language means learning another culture too.
- Our culture influences the way we do things.
- Learning about other cultures helps us see that there is no right way of doing things and that we, as well are influenced.
- What’s acceptable in your country might not be acceptable in Italy, and vice versa.
- You can learn a lot about the italian culture by observing the Italians.
- In Italy, dinner can start from 7 pm to 9pm, depending on the region.
- Guests bring a gift and they remove the price for the label.
- “Non dovevi” (you shouldn’t have), means that the host were really happy about your gift.
- The “cook” is praised for their cooking skills.
- The guests praise the host for how well they keep their house.
- Dinners are usually pretty long.
- It’s better to learn Italian expressions as they are knowing that their English translation won’t be word by word.
Balboni, Paolo E. “Problemi Di Comunicazione Interculturale Tra Italiani e Parlanti Di Italiano in Nord America.” Italica 78, no. 4 (2001): 445–63. https://doi.org/10.2307/3656075.
Evason Nina, Italian Culture, Cultural Atlas, 2017. Available at: https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/italian-culture
Nation Paul, What Should Every ESL Teacher Know?, Compass Publishing, 2013