As you might know I have been in and out of Italy for almost one full year. Three months here, a few there, a couple more here and so it goes. I don’t want to digress too much by talking about the first year now because that will be a post to save for next month, but I did start this blog right around the time I arrived and began getting settled. That is why what happened this morning kinda stunned me.

I, like many other of my newly expated amici, are still struggling to learn, what I affectionately call, la musica italiana, or rather – the Italian language. The poetic rhythm of the seemingly continuous vowel-endings and perfectly placed inflections are nice to hear and, if I may say so myself (blush blush), extremely romantico. But, folks – it ain’t an easy language to learn! The grammar is killing me…I will most certainly die an early, if not unforeseen, death by Italian grammatica.

I mean, come on – us English speakers know a table is a table is a table – it has no gender! “It” is wood…you eat on “it” …”it” is an “it”…end of story. But Italians see a table as “il tavolo” – the masculine, unless it is set and ready for you to have dinner upon – then it is “la tavola” – the feminine…ahhh, isn’t that sweet? (growl…)

And, don’t get me started on the word “the.” How many ways do you think it should take to say this word? Not only one simple three-letter word like we have in inglese, but at least 6 that I have found…il, lo, la, i, le – and gli…Mamma Mia! And, it all depends not only on the singular or plural, but, you guessed it – the masculine and the feminine.

There have been many a red-faced, wide-eyed moment when I mispronounced various words in Italian – always in front of other people. It couldn’t have happened when I was studying with Peppe, or even practicing with my Calabrese buddies who are more sophisticated in their lingual comprehension. But, no! It was almost always in front of Peppe’s dad or male friends.

There was the time I tried to say “fichi” (figs) but instead said a very vulgar word describing a female body part…

I meant to say “scappare,” but instead said “scopare”; the first being “to escape”, the second being yet another vulgar slang word describing a sex act (think the “f” word).

I once tried to tell Peppe’s friend that I was 29 years old (in Italiana, I have 29 years), this instead came out, “I have 29 anuses….”(Ah! Mortifying!!!)

But – there are some things I knew. Some basic, if not limited, general rules for the Italian language…

I knew there was a difference in Ti Voglio Bene (I love you….to anybody) and Ti Amo (I love you….to my husband).

I knew Italians used the informal “tu” when speaking to friends, to family members, and to God…

I knew when forming Italian sentences the noun is placed before the adjective.

So – when I named my blog “My Bella Vita,” I knew it was grammatically incorrect from an Italian language perspective. However, I figured since the word “my” isn’t Italian anyway, no one would mind. Right?

Well – this morning, after having my blog for almost 10 months, my ever-so-observant fidanzato announces, “I want to teach you something about Italian.”

Me: “Ok”

(What mistake did I make now??)

Him: “Italian is different from English”

Me: “Ya think?”

Him: “Yes.”

(He misses my sarcasm.)

Him: “In Italian, we put the adjective after the noun…like, I say, ‘Cicina Bella’, not ‘Bella Cicina’….

Me: “Yes, I knew this,”

(Smiling from his ever-so-typical and flattering use of an example!)

Him: “We say it opposite from you in English.”

Me: “Yes, I get this…”

Him: “Well, then you need to change your blog!”

Ha ha ha ha ha…he knew the name of my blog??

Me: “Yea, I actually did it on purpose.”

Him: “Oh….”

(He waits a few seconds…)

Him: “Why?”

So – for all of you out there who either knew, or cared, or cared to know – the grammatically correct title of my blog is, I am thinking, “La Mia Vita Bella.”

But don’t ya think “My Bella Vita” says it just fine?

16 Responses
  1. Texas Espresso

    That totally works for me! I am also studying Italian – has being there helped you alot in remembering? I am having issues but am hoping that somehow, someway I will have actually learned the basics and then moving there will make it “click”. Am I being delusional? hehe

  2. Enza

    I am totally cracking up here because i grew up in the states but with Sicilian parents. To this day i can’t figure out the lo or il or la. just smile and look pretty when u say it!!

  3. Confessions of Cleopantha

    So what happens with la dolce vita?? Or is that english-ised? My italian grammar is appalling even after all the time l have spent there. On the bright side though l understand italian very well and that is important to me.
    Your blog title is a marriage of your native life and new life and the languages that entails.

  4. Vee

    I had a laugh also, I am the same as enza with Sicilian parents but was born in Sydney , Australia and have the same problems. Everything is lo ! hehehe.

    Thanks for popping bye on my blog and the well wishes 🙂

  5. Annika

    wouldn’t there be a difference between ‘la bella vita’ and ‘la vita è bella’ – one meaning ‘the beautiful life’ and the other ‘life is beautiful’. Because you can definitely say ‘una bella donna’ (a beautiful woman, which differs from ‘una donna è bella which would mean ‘a woman is beautiful’) but she’ll always have ‘i capelli rossi’….. some adjectives CAN be put before the noun, while others, like colors, are always put after.

    Or am I wrong? I’m still learning too… 🙂

  6. Cherrye

    Yea..glad to see I am not alone!

    TX Espresso – I am sure ” newbies” and linguists agree – being here is better than ANY language book! One of my problems is I have never studied Italian, so I am having a hard time see “why” things are the way they are…

    Enza-I usually do just smile, then I laugh with the Italians who are laughing at me.. 🙂

    Confessions – Not sure about la dolce vita…it sounds right to me, but then again – what do I know? And – I am glad you got what I was going for on my blog title!

    Annika – I think you are totally right about some adjectives being put before the noun…which ones I am not sure! Just one more thing to “worry” about when we are learning the language, eh?

  7. sognatrice

    Cherrye, I have a list in my grammar book that explains some differences of when adjectives are before and when they are after…b/c wouldn’t you know, it can change the meaning!

    For example, “una vecchia amica” means a friend you’ve had for a long time; “un’amica vecchia” means a friend that is just old (in years) period. Of course as women, we probably wouldn’t use that second one, but you get the gist. I’ll have to type up the list for you.

    Anyway, I think “la mia bella vita” would be right b/c yeah, what about “la dolce vita”? Hmm…maybe Peppe should ask Nino for some guidance here 😉 And I’m not surprised he didn’t pick up on the sarcasm. Constant issue here 🙂

    Oh, and AUGURI to Peppe for San Giuseppe’s day today. He should be buying you at least one of those fruity drinks at the bar!

  8. Judith in Umbria

    Of course there are exceptions for emphasis, and il fidanzato surely knows that. Just like putting the subject after the verb for emphasis, you can put the adjective before the noun.
    Thing is, he wants you to understand the correct ordinary form before flying off into pop-lit Italian, and that’s probably right.
    It is WORK, but read and listen and watch TV and movies in Italian and it will start to seem normal. You have to really want it to get good.

  9. j

    Well my grandparents learned Italian from their native Catanzaro. My parents learned it straight from them. They claim that when they go to Tuscany they can’t understand anyone and no one can understand them. I get the sense that Italian is even more regional than English in the US ya’ll. So maybe you are just speaking Tuscan.

  10. katerinafiore

    I hear you about the italian language. It is difficult, but like my friends always say, it isn’t about the destination but the journey in achieving that goal. I am just as frustrated as you. I start my italian language class again next month. I really want to work on it.

  11. Cherrye

    Michelle – I will take you up on that grammar lesson – I obviously need all the help I can get.

    Judith – I watched Squadra 49 (Ladder 49) in Italian the other day – I still cried in the end…I must have gotten something out of that, right?

    Jeff – I love it! Next time Peppe says I made a mistake, I will just tell him I am speaking a different dialect. It works for them, huh? PS – your grandparents probably spoke calabrese or catanzaresi dialect – I have to learn those, too…

    Katie – you are taking your class again? Good for you! Maybe we should have an on-line study group? 🙂

  12. Cheeky

    Oh Cherrye . . . .I had such a good laugh. Don’t you change a thing. You are too adorable and it’s perfect. Want to know why? It’s you. It’s not “grammatically” correct in Italian and that makes it even better. It has it’s own unique flavor going on and besides gives everyone who thinks you aren’t aware something to snicker about. lol (I am still grinning ear to ear thinking about how darn funny this is!)
    The fact that your fiance pointed it out makes it even sweeter.
    I can’t say it enough, but I think it just has it’s own personality this way so OWN it and stay proud, as I can hear through your words you are.
    The language will come. I understand all about the mas, fem and neutral, oh boy do I! Making mistakes is necessary to learning. You won’t make those same ones again, that’s for certain!
    Thanks for popping in and saying hello. Thanks for the laughs, not at your expense I want you to know.
    You said it all so well. I really enjoyed reading this post. You are a doll.
    Now I’m off to see what everyone else said . . . mmhhh??

  13. Cherrye

    Ohhh, Cheeky…blush blush.

    BTW, you guys – Nino (Peppe’s dad) said that both Bella Vita and Vita Bella are just fine in Italian…of course, I was speaking Italian when I asked him, so take it for what it is worth!


  14. yours truly B

    I like the name and I don’t think it makes any difference if you mix it up a little it just means you have an individual sense of life and no one can take that from you.

  15. Cassie

    I’m totally cracking up too. I think Italian is harder than Spanish, but in learning spanish there have been SO MANY times that I said something and didn’t realize what I said until someone else was rolling on the floor in laughter because of my accidental misuse of the language. Oops!

  16. Emily

    May I steal your words for a minute and replace a couple with my own?

    “There have been many a red-faced, wide-eyed moment when I mispronounced various words in Italian – always in front of other people. It couldn’t have happened when I was studying in private with my roommates, or in class with a teacher who is used to hearing non-native speakers fumble around for the right word(s), often innocently saying something completely inappropriate. But, no! It was almost always in front of some cute Italian guy, or the most public of places so that not just one or two people heard my word blunder, but everyone and their Italian mama turned around to see who just said something so stupid/vulgar.”

    While I can laugh about my word blunders in private, or grandly tell the “funny” story of my mispronunciations in Italian to my friends and family back home, in reality, the situations aren’t all that funny at the moment when they so very publicly take place. After the fact, yes, I chuckle, but in the moment, I blush and feel foreign from top to bottom.

    Your mistake of saying scopare is similar to something I experienced, except instead of “scappare” (to escape) I was trying to say “scoprire” (to discover). Ironically, asking a friend “Come si dice ‘to discover'”, I ‘discovered’ that “scoprire” isn’t “scopare”, nor is it a combination of the two, “scoprare” (which is just another example of yet one more word I have ‘created’ in my attempt to speak Italian), both of which came out of my mouth as I tried to repeat the new word my friend had said to me.

    Part of the reason for the blunder was that we were wandering through a noisy, open market and I couldn’t hear said friend say “scoprire” very well. Unfortunately I half-shouted back the verb I thought he said, “scopare”, in order to confirm the pronunciation. Although I finally heard him say “scoprire” clearly after he took me aside to repeat it, he also explained that the word I had just used was a vulgar term for “to screw”. My second attempt was no better than the first, as my mind was working overtime to register both words, the one I was trying to say and the one I had just learned meant something…not so nice. Throw in a bunch of staring/glaring Italians – all looking my way, or so it seemed – and my nervousness and perhaps teeny bit of dyslexia, and the situation was ripe and ready for me to spit out some weird combination of the two.

    Thank goodness my Italian friends are patient and try to laugh (or can’t help laughing) when I make mistakes like this. This one just laughed and told me that I had said some sort of non-word that would sound something like “discoverf**k” if it was an actual word. This is also the same friend that told me to pronounces the “ch” sound of the double c in “successo” hard, (which means “success”), or else coming off of my foreign-accented tongue it sounded like “sul cesso” (or “on top of the toilet”). Oh brother.

    I enjoyed reading about your fascination with the beautiful rhythm and sound of the Italian language juxtaposed with your frustration with Italian grammar. It summed up exactly what I have been feeling ever since beginning to learn this new language. While I have read similar posts about overcoming language and grammar, this post, and your blog in general, have been by far my favorite to read. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your insights, and for expressing the struggles, triumphs, irritations, fascinations, etc, that you experience in this new bella vita of yours. =)
    Oh, Emily. Thank you so much for the compliments. I imagine we could write a book about our most embarrasing moments. Seriously. Figs still gets me. I pretend I don’t know that word EVERY time!

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