By Patricia Winton
Italian has lots of proverbs common to English and other languages. A caval donato non si guarda in bocca, for example, translates perfectly as “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” And Batti il ferro finché è caldo literally means “Strike while the iron is hot.”
Other expressions have different literal meanings with the same result. A chi dai il dito si prende anche il braccio translates to “Give them a finger and they’ll take an arm.” In English that, of course, means “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” Chi dorme non piglia pesci means “Those who sleep don’t catch any fish” which in English is “The early bird gets the worm.”
But my favorite expressions are those that relate directly to the Italian way of life. I recently learned a new one, and it’s so central to life here that I now see it everywhere I turn: Non ci corre dietro nessuno. Literally, it means “There’s no one running behind us.” In reality it means “What’s your hurry.”
This attitude both enrages me sometimes with Italian people who never seem to rush (except on the highway) and endears them to me because they know how to enjoy life. Last week, I fumed in the supermarket checkout line while my frozen foods defrosted on the conveyer belt. The cashier continued his conversation with the customer ahead of me whose purchases were bagged and whose change was stowed in her purse. My American impatience had smoke coming out my ears, but all the customers behind me chatted with each other. I had to take a deep breath and repeat: Non ci corre dietro nessuno. Everybody’s enjoying themselves. Relax.
And that leads me to another proverb: Dove c'è gusto non c'è perdenza, that is, where there’s enjoyment, there’s no loss. It’s this attitude toward life that keeps me living here. It’s better for my blood pressure if I keep reminding myself not to hurry and to enjoy myself. The final proverb for the day:
“È meglio morire sazio che digiuno.” It’s better to die sated than on an empty stomach. I think that’s so much better than “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die. I’m too much an American to completely adopt this Italian zest for life, but I appreciate it and try to alter my attitudes and behavior to match it.