In che zona vivi?
If you haven’t spent a lot of time in Italy, this will be a cultural lesson as well as a vocab lesson.
The reason is because here in the boot, we speak frequently of “zones” or neighborhoods, zone also called, quartiere. They can be within a city, within a region or within all of Italy, but no matter how narrow your focus, it’s a common way to describe where you’re from.
For example, in Florence, we have five quartieri. But, beyond that, we also have four quartieri storici, or historical neighborhoods, that are in constant competition with each other. Every year, there is a historical soccer match where each of the historical neighborhoods competes against each other. I live in the Santo Spirito zona, and you better believe I am fiercely pro quartiere Santo Sprito when the soccer matches are happening.
My quartiere is referred to as the bianchi, the whites, and during competitions, you’ll see tons of white flags, lovingly and proudly draped from many a window. Even in the off season, it’s not uncommon to see our bandiera or flag on display (or even tattooed on a leg or two).
The same concept is true in Siena, where the Palio, the historic bareback horse race, happens every year. The quartieri compete against each other, the fans wear the colors of their rider and each quartiere is decorated to the extreme. When and if your quartiere wins, you can expect all night parties, food, drinks and rowdy merry-making.
Beyond cities, zone can also refer to regions, or even more generally, north, central, or southern Italy. You might hear accents from different zones, or note that food comes from different zones of Italy.
You might also get asked when you’re traveling, “in che zona stai di Firenze?” which translates basically to, “where are you staying / living in Florence?” Often times people respond with the name of the quartiere, so if I was asked, I would say, “Sto in Santo Spirito.” Immediately, fellow Florentines can understand a lot about me, and they understand perfectly which is the neighborhood that I call home.
This is an important part of everyday Italian that you might have missed as it is used commonly colloquially or among natives, so don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard it before. Just one of the many language jewels you uncover after an extended stay in Italia.
So, what about you? Have you heard Italy described this way? Do you have a favorite zona?