There are many avenues to get to know a culture. In Italy, we often look to food and wine as a ways to gain a deeper cultural appreciation of the country. But we must not forget another critical means for understanding: language.
Like many Italian cultures, proverbs are passed down from generation to generation. They are colorfully illustrative of day-to-day triumphs, struggles and wisdoms. Like most things in Italy, you’ll find that they often revolve around important everyday appreciations such as wine, food, family and natural beauty.
Here are some of Homebase Abroad’s favorite Italian proverbs and their meanings. Listen carefully during your time in Italy. You might hear them said by a shopkeeper, sung out from a mother to her child or advised by your tour guides.
Quando Siena piange, Firenze ride.
Translation: When Siena cries, Florence laughs and vice versa.
Meaning: You can’t make everyone happy.
A buon cavalier non manca lancia.
Translation: A brave knight never runs out of swords.
Meaning: It’s all about being resourceful.
Chi la dura la vince.
Translation: Those who never give up, win.
Meaning: Determination and perseverance pay off.
A ogni uccello il suo nido è bello.
Translation: To every bird, his own nest is beautiful.
Meaning: There’s no place like home.
A buon cavallo non manca sella.
Translation: A good horse does not lack saddle.
Meaning: Being resourceful doesn’t require lots of tools.
A chi mangia sempre polli vien voglia di polenta.
Translation: Even those who always eat chicken will feel like eating polenta.
Meaning: Sometimes it happens that those who live a life of luxury have the desire to enjoy a simple and modest life.
A San Martino ogni mosto diventa vino.
Translation: On Saint Martin’s day (November 11th), we open the barrel and taste the wine.
Meaning: In Italy, St. Martin’s day is celebrated every year on November 11. This holiday coincides with the arrival of the “new wine,” which is the first wine reaching the tables and comes from the grapes just harvested a few weeks earlier. In a broad sense, this proverb means that the time of change always comes, whether we like it or not.
Al contadin non far sapere quanto è buono il formaggio con le pere.
Translation: Do not let the farmer find out how good cheese and pears are to eat.
Meaning: If everyone knew a secret, it would never be one.
Aprile dolce dormire.
Translation: Sleeping in April is so sweet.
Meaning: As nature comes back to life and there are more responsibilities, we enjoy our rest.
Bella vigna poca uva.
Translation: A beautiful little, vineyard grape.
Meaning: Quality is always better than quantity.
Botte buona fa buon vino.
Translation: The barrel knows the kind of wine it contains.
Meaning: People are as good as the family that raise them.
Buon fuoco e buon vino, scaldano il mio camino.
Translation: A good fire and a good wine makes you feel at home.
Meaning: There’s nothing better than being at home.
Buon tempo e mal tempo non dura tutto il tempo.
Translation: Both nice and bad weather do not last for ever.
Meaning: All things change.
Cader non può, chi ha la virtù per guida.
Translation: Those who are well-guided will not to be disappointed.
Meaning: Those with pure intentions will live a happy life.
Chi domanda non erra.
Translation: Those who ask will not make mistakes.
Meaning: It’s better to ask questions than make assumptions.
Chi fa le fave senza concime le raccoglie senza baccelli.
Translation: Those who do not fertilize the fava beans will get nothing.
Meaning: The most fruitful crops require a lot of tending.
A buon intenditor, poche parole.
Translation: The wise speak few words.
Meaning: You don’t need to speak a lot to be understood.
Paese che vai usanza che trovi.
Translation: Every country has its own traditions.
Meaning: We should respect our differences.
Ogni lasciata è persa.
Translation: Everything we left is lost.
Meaning: Nothing lasts forever.
L’appetito vien mangiando.
Translation: The more good food you eat, the more you feel like eating.
Meaning: It’s hard to get enough of a good thing!
We’d love to hear from you if you know some proverbs that aren’t listed here.