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Italian is a colorful language and Italian proverbs truly take the cake in terms of creativity. Some are downright untranslatable, and others are much more vibrant than their English equivalents.
Learning them can be a great way to expand your vocabulary and also help you provide a quick turn of phrase when conversing.
There are literally hundreds to choose from, but I’ve picked my top 5 that I find both fun and relatable.
You’ll be surprised how easy they are to memorize, and how quickly you will find yourself thinking of them in your everyday life.
1.) “A ogni uccello il suo nido è bello.”
Literally translated as “to every bird, his own nest is beautiful,” this proverb can also mean “home sweet home” or “there is no place like home.” I actually prefer the sweet sentiment in Italian – we should all be so lucky to love the place we live.
2.) “O mangi questa minestra o salti questa finestra.”
Who doesn’t enjoy a rhyming proverb? This is the equivalent of “take it or leave it” in English but the actual translation is just so much better. “Either eat this soup (minestrone) or jump out of this window.” I wonder how many Italian children have actually contemplated jumping, rather than eating their vegetables?
3.) “Non si può avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca.”
This one makes me laugh, and it has to be one of my all time favorites. The first time I heard it, I was in a vino sfuso shop and complaining that I wanted to drink the wine that night but that I was actually buying it to save for a special day. The elderly shop owner shook his finger at me and fired off the quote above, meaning, “You can’t have a full cask and a drunk wife.” It took me about a minute to understand his meaning: you can’t have your cake and eat it too. When I finally caught on, I couldn’t control the giggles. I taught him the equivalent in English plus “happy wife, happy life” for good measure.
4.) “La gatta frettolosa fa i gattini ciechi.”
“The hasty cat gives birth to blind kittens,” or a much more interesting way to say, “haste makes waste.” I love this one because I have also heard it used when trying to express the need to relax and take things slowly one day (or hour) at a time. When I think of the unrushed pace in Italy, I think of this quote and imagine a big cat, leisurely sunning itself on a wall somewhere in Chianti. To me, this proverb strikes into the heart of what Italy is all about.
5.) “L’abito non fa il monaco.”
In a mostly Catholic country, with roots seeped in tradition, it is not surprising to find a quote relating to the clergy. In English we say, “clothes don’t make the man” or “things aren’t always as they seem.” In Italian, by contrast, it’s “the attire doesn’t make a monk.”
Have you heard any interesting proverbs in Italian? Share your favorites in the comments below!