Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Playing Bimbo and Other Games

By Patricia Winton

In the temperate spring weather, people gather in Italian piazzas in the early evening before dinner. The adults sit on benches and gossip. The children play games. Most often, the boys are playing football (soccer), and all the children are running and shouting. Here are some traditional games they might play, especially at local festivals with adult supervision.


Groups of older children may be seen playing Bimbo, a popular action game. Before you become alarmed, let me explain that bimbo is a positive term in Italian. It derives from the word bambino, a male child. I’m writing about how bimbo came to mean an air-headed, sexy female in English today at Italian Intrigues .
To play the game, the children form two lines facing each other a couple of meters apart. One child is chosen to be the bimbo. The others put their cupped hands behind their backs. The bimbo, carrying two leaves, walks behind the two rows and secretly drops a leaf into the hands of a child in each line. Those children try not to show emotion at receiving the leaf.
The bimbo then returns to the space between the two facing rows and calls out, “Stop, thief, lucky leaf.” The two children with the leaves run as fast as possible to the other side, trying to evade the bimbo, who tries to catch them. Once they reach the opposite side safely, the leaf holders pass the leaf to another child’s waiting hands. The children pass the leaf from hand to hand behind their backs. All the while, the bimbo attempts to tag someone holding the leaf. When the bimbo does tag someone, that child becomes the new bimbo and the game starts over.
Older children may also play Cucuzzaro, which means “pumpkin planter” in a dialect used in central Italy. In this game, one child is chosen to be the pumpkin planter and stands in the center. The other children are the pumpkins and sit in a circle around the planter. The planter assigns a number to each pumpkin. The game begins when the pumpkin planter says, “In my pumpkin patch there are six pumpkins.” Pumpkin Six asks, “Why six pumpkins?” The planter responds, “If not six, how many?” Pumpkin Six says, “Three pumpkins,” then Pumpkin Three answers “Why three pumpkins?” The game continues, going faster and faster, until one pumpkin gets confused and misses a turn. That pumpkin must then pay some silly penalty and become the pumpkin planter.
Il Girotondo
From Kate Greenway's Mother Goose
In this ring-around-the-roses type game, young children form a circle holding hands. They move in a circle chanting the words:
Giro girotondo
Casca il mondo
Casca la Terra
Tutti giu’ per terra!

Turn round and round / the world falls down / the Earth falls down / everybody down on the ground!

At the last line, the children all fall to the ground, laughing.

La Bella Lavanderina

La Bella Lavanderina (The Pretty Washerwoman) is another ring-around-the-roses game. In it, one child stands in the center of the circle (the pretty washerwoman). As the children circle, singing, the washerwoman acts out the words. On the final line, the washerwoman kisses the cheek of one of the children in the ring, and that child becomes the new washerwoman. Please note that Italians kiss each other easily, so there is none of the self-consciousness that children in other cultures might feel.

La bella lavanderina
che lava i fazzoletti
per i poveretti
della citta’
fai un salto
fanne un altro
fai la giravolta
falla un’altra volta
guarda in su
guarda in giu’
dai un bacio a chi vuoi tu!

The pretty little washerwoman / who washes the handkerchiefs / for the poor people / of the town / make a jump / make another one / twirl around / do it again / look up / look down / give a kiss to whom you want!

Visit me at Italian Intrigues to see how bimbo came to be a pejorative term in English, and join me there on alternate Thursdays.


  1. I love the rhymes! Thanks for sharing them!

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