Ordering Italian Food in Italian

At some point over the Atlantic Ocean, on the way to Italy, virtually everything I learned from Rosetta Stone seemed to disappear from my head. Part of the reason for this could’ve been that I didn’t have much time during the week leading up to our wedding to study much. The audio CD that comes with the software was very helpful for reviewing past lessons, but I still had about a fourth of Level 1 to get through when I ran out of time. Of course, the other reason all the Italian I’d learned seemed to have flown right out of my head was that I was so excited that the honeymoon had finally started.

Fortunately, I managed to remember some Italian after we landed. Even the limited bit of time I’d studied with Rosetta Stone yielded benefits the first day my wife and I were in Italy. When we went to pick up our rental car, I was able to say in Italian that I had a reservation. The rental-car guy immediately answered me in fluent English, but it still felt good to at least make an effort to speak the local language. Many interactions when I tried to speak Italian followed a similar pattern. I would try to speak the language and an Italian would humor me briefly before responding in English. Of course, not everyone in Italy speaks English. There were several times during the trip when my efforts to learn a little Italian paid off big time. Given the excellent reputation Italy has for cuisine, it shouldn’t be surprising that two of the most memorable instances involved food and drink.

pastaOne of the first times in which learning even a bit of the language proved incredibly helpful was when I asked for restaurant recommendations. After just one day on the Amalfi Coast, my wife discovered she loves spaghetti with clams. Thanks to Rosetta Stone, I was able to ask waiters, in Italian, whether or not the restaurant served spaghetti con le vongole. And I was also able to ask locals—many of whom spoke no English—for their recommendations as to which restaurants prepared the best version of it.

The second especially memorable language experience involved a very large steak. Italy isn’t generally known for steak, but Tuscany is renowned for its bistecca fiorentina. While in Florence, we went to a restaurant famed for these steaks. No one spoke English, but we didn’t let that daunt us. Perhaps I was willing to depend on my limited Italian because this place served what looked like the greatest porterhouse steaks I’d ever seen anywhere. The only problem was that each steak looked like it was meant for two people, and my wife doesn’t normally eat steak. I was able to explain this to the waiter, and he recommended a pasta dish that she enjoyed a lot.

When it was my turn to order, I muddled through asking the waiter for one of the giant steaks, and he looked incredulous, letting me know in Italian that no one person could eat something that big. I figured out how to ask him if they had a smaller one, and he laughed and said he would see what he could do. Then, he asked me what I wanted on the side, and I was able to ask him for a recommendation. After thinking for a few moments, he told us about a fried-vegetable platter.

That meal was the best we had during our time in Italy!

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David Gootzit

David Gootzit lives in Virginia. He’s a self-professed history geek, loves to bake, and is a certified barbecue judge. The last time he traveled abroad he only learned how to say “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry.” David hopes to do much better for his next trip when he’ll be traveling through Italy with his wife on their honeymoon.
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