The Italians really know what’s truly important in life.
Food, especially food that’s enjoyed with friends and family, is what makes life sweet.
Many foreigners are envious of the seemingly effortless way that Italians make time for cooking real meals, keeping in touch with their friends and calling up their moms at regular intervals.
This culture of enjoying life to its fullest has produced many sayings related to the themes of food, friendship and family. In this article, we’ll discuss some of these Italian words of wisdom and their cultural significance.
We’ll start with four great Italian sayings about food, that ever-so-famous and critical aspect of Italian life.
After moving on to four friendly sayings about friends, we’ll finish up with a few familiar sayings about family.
Food, Friends, Family: 12 Italian Sayings About the Important Things in Life
Knowing some common sayings can teach you a lot about the language, but even more about the culture that came up with them. The sayings below will give you a taste of Italy.
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Build that vocabulary and learn a bit about Italian culture with the sayings below!
4 Tasty Italian Sayings About Food
In a country like Italy, food comes up in everyday speech quite frequently, even when you’re not eating. The Italians have a lot of sayings about food and use food as a metaphor for other aspects of life.
1. Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco.
Meaning: Literally, this means “not all doughnuts come out with a hole,” but people say it to indicate that things don’t always turn out as planned.
Though the doughnut is not a typical Italian dessert, Italians have embraced the doughnut as much as they have embraced Homer Simpson, the doughnut-loving American TV character.
Young Italians love “The Simpsons.” On the Italian cooking website Giallo Zafferano, you can even find a Simpsons-inspired recipe for the iconic pink frosted doughnut with rainbow sprinkles.
2. Meglio aver poco che niente.
Meaning: It’s better to have a little than nothing.
Until the mid-20th century, some regions in Italy struggled with poverty. This fostered an attitude of thankfulness, which psychologists say is the basis for a happy life.
In modern, affluent Italy, many people think that it’s also better to have a little bit of a good thing as opposed to many mediocre things. You can see this in the way that Italians will pick out only the best clothes, handbags and artisanal food, even if it means they can only afford to have a little bit.
3. Bevici su – Il bar non porta i ricordi. Sono i ricordi che portano al bar.
Meaning: Drink up, the bar doesn’t bring memories. Memories bring you to the bar.
The bar is a social hub in Italy. People go there for a quick breakfast cornetto (crescent roll) and espresso, a panino for lunch or for an apperativo (alcoholic drink and savory snack) in the evening. Going to the bar can be an occasion on its own, or just the first stop before going out to eat or to go dancing in the club.
For older Italians, the bar is where you talk about your day or your life. But for the younger generations, memories are made there as well.
4. Chi lavora mangia. Chi non lavora, mangia, beve e dorme.
Meaning: He who works, eats. He who doesn’t work, eats, drinks and sleeps.
In Italy, work is seen as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. Work-life balance is important and having enough time to enjoy your life and get a good night’s rest is seen as a right.
4 Fun Italian Sayings About Friendship
Italians often have extended social networks that revolve around a core group of friends. Friendships are often formed in childhood and tend to last a lifetime. While this kind of support is great for natives, it can be difficult for foreigners to be accepted into a group of natives.
Expats in Italy tend to hang around other expats. But that doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate the same closeness and openness between friends, no matter who they are.
5. A buon intenditor poche parole.
Meaning: Few words are needed for a good listener.
Italy is a fairly extroverted country. When going out with friends, it’s expected that you will talk a lot.
Conversely, you will be expected to listen a lot. No matter where you go, people like it when you remember things about them.
6. Dai nemici mi guardo io, dagli amici mi guardi Iddio!
Meaning: I will protect myself from my enemies, may God protect me from my friends.
This old saying dates back the time of the Medici, a time when “friendships” were based less on affection and more on what the other person could do for you. In this “Godfather”-like culture, you never knew if someone was really on your side or just there because you were beneficial to them…for now.
In modern times, it just means that only God can save you from your friends’ merciless pranks during special occasions like graduation and bachelor/ette parties.
7. Noi non potremo avere perfetta vita senza amici.
Meaning: We can’t have a perfect life without friends.
This is a famous quote by the father of the Italian language, Dante Alighieri. In modern Italian, it would be written as Noi non possiamo avere una vita perfetta senza amici. Even in the 13th century, friendship was of central importance in Italian life.
8. A tavola non si invecchia.
Meaning: At the table, you don’t get old.
Italians never eat alone so this phrase implies that if you’re at the table, you’re also surrounded by family and friends. Of course, this also includes the grandparents, Nonno and Nonna, enjoying good health and happiness in their old age.
The elderly in Italy are respected members of society. Seniors enjoy active social lives and decades-long friendships. It’s not uncommon to see a group of old men at the bar playing Scopa (a traditional card game) or a group of old ladies gossiping at each other’s windows.
4 Cozy Italian Sayings About Family
The family is the cornerstone of Italian life. It’s the central axis around which all other things revolve.
For Italians, time spent watching TV with their families is among life’s simplest and greatest joys. Employment also tends to be kept “in the family,” especially in the craft industries. Consequently, Italian children have an unshakable bond with their parents.
9. Una buona mamma vale cento maestre.
Meaning: A good mother is worth a hundred teachers.
Think of everything you learn from your mom. The lessons that she teaches you about life are really irreplaceable and can’t be learned from anyone else.
The mamma is the head of the Italian household. A mother is an Italian girl’s best friend and confidant. It’s also not a bad thing for a man to be called a mamone (“mamma’s boy”). The former prime minister (and comically macho playboy) Silvio Berlusconi proudly describes himself as one.
10. L’ affetto verso i genitori è fondamento di ogni virtù.
Meaning: Loving one’s parents is fundamentally the greatest virtue.
This is a play on the Bible’s Sixth Commandment, “honor thy father and mother.”
Italy is a very Catholic country. The definition of what constitutes a “traditional family” is based on traditional Christian values. Consequently, while Italy does recognize civil unions between gay partners, it does not recognize gay marriage.
Nevertheless, many individuals there believe that all kinds of marriages should be accepted, while still loving and honoring one’s parents.
11. Chi si volta, e chi si gira, sempre a casa va finire.
Meaning: No matter where you go or turn, you’ll always end up at home.
In Italy, it’s not uncommon for unmarried adult children to live with their parents. The family is a source of joy, so families try to stay together as long as possible.
While the multi-generational Italian household of decades past is in decline, families try to live in close proximity to one another. Children only move far away from their parents if doing so is absolutely necessary for work or study.
12. A ogni uccello il suo nido è bello.
Meaning: Every bird finds his own nest beautiful. This is the Italian equivalent “home sweet home.”
While Italy has a chic, dynamic and hyper-modern interior design scene, there’s also an appreciation for heirloom furniture. These pieces stay in the family home or get passed down from generation to generation.
Whether old or new, Italians take great care in furnishing their homes.
There are many admirable aspects of Italian culture, such as the closeness between friends and family and the joy that they share around the dinner table.
But you don’t have to be Italian or even live in Italy to take these sayings to heart. Through your thoughts, actions and sayings, you can live the Italian spirit of togetherness and enjoyment of life.
Plan an outing with tasty aperitivi. Call your friends and family on the phone for no reason. By making a little bit of extra effort, you’ll reap the social benefits that many Italians take for granted.
Jesica Versichele is a writer and content marketer in the art and culture niche. As an American expat who lives in the Netherlands, she writes about travel and cultural experiences in Europe for an American audience. Check out her website JV Creative Content.
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