While traveling, have you ever been told to stop speaking the local language because you were so incompetent at it, you hurt the native speaker’s ears? Many Parisians have given me looks to this effect, but no one has actually come right out with it. Locals can make traveling a bit of comedy and a bit of tragedy.
It’s true that not all the locals you meet while traveling are the most pleasant. An Italian nonna told a classmate from my language school in Venice, “Please stop speaking Italian. You’re hurting my ears.” This was probably after la nonna rolled past the girl with her shopping cart while elbowing her way to the front of the line. (I’m telling you Italian grandmas are more dangerous than Berlusconi, the Camorra or Cosa Nostra.) Aghast and thoroughly upset the poor girl had no response and let it negatively affect her trip and opinion of Italy.
An experience like this can either leave you with a negative impression of the country you've visited, or it can give you plenty to laugh about later. I prefer laughter, and you have a funny travel tale to tell later.
During my travels throughout Italy, I’ve learned comebacks and a few parolaccie (bad words). I learned some of the comebacks in Italian class and others elsewhere and from my Italian cousins. Curse words in another language don't feel as strong or vulgar as they do to me in English, but I usually kept most of my comebacks in my head or I'm just not quick enough with them. These are listed from least offensive to vulgar in each category.
To express disgust or repugnance:
Che schifo! (What filth! How disgusting!)
To say you could care less:
Non mi interessa! (I'm not interested)
Me ne frega (I could care less)
Me ne sbatto! (I don't give an "F"!)
To tell someone he/she is not the nicest person in the world:
Che scortese! (How rude)
Sei un stronzo! (You're an a**hole!)
Sei maleducato! (Your parents raised you horribly) This seems to be the absolute worst insult you can hurl at someone, maybe because it's also attacking your parents. Be careful with this one; I’ve seen fists fly after someone slings this one.
To tell someone to stop being difficult:
Non rompere le scatole (Don’t break the boxes)
Non rompere le palle (Don’t break the balls)
Non rompere i miei coglioni (Don’t break my balls)
To express anger towards someone (the stronzo yelling at you or one of the many drivers who cut you off or almost run you over, for example):
Sono arrabbiato come una bestia! (I'm as angry as a beast!)
Va al diavolo! (Go to the devil---the Italian version of "go to hell!)
Cazzo (If you call someone it, it means “dick.” It’s also an expression, meaning “oh F***.)
Testa di cazzo (literally it means “head of a dick.” In English we just say it in reverse.)
Vaffanculo! (Italian version of F you!)
These are from my cousins, a few Sicilian parolaccie, which might not be fully understood anywhere else in Italy. (Oh, I will be in big trouble if my cousins read this post, I wasn’t supposed to repeat them.)
Minchia (This one is hard to translate but it’s like calling someone a F***er. It’s also a vulgar expression. How they explained it to me: There are 3 Sicilian expressions, used like we use “wow;” they are perbacco, mizzica and minchia. Minchia is the vulgar one.)
Puttana della miseria (the worst miserable whore – definitely used while driving in Sicily)
Cazzo che ti fotte (It wasn’t thoroughly explained, but it’s like “Mother F***er” in English.)
Even if you don’t want to use the comebacks or the parolaccie, a traveler in Italy should know these phrases. You certainly don't want to respond to a "Vaffanculo!" with a smile and "grazie.”
What’s been the funniest altercation you've experienced while traveling? And, did you have a comeback?