Before arriving in Italy, the closest thing to speaking Italian I had experienced was ordering gnocchi at Da Vincis in Montreal (seriously great food). Needless to say, I have struggled a tad since arriving in Apignano. To combat my complete ineptitude, I have concocted a clever plan to learn this romance language – order as much gelato as possible. That’s right, ice cream will hopefully, perhaps, lead me to master beginner Italian skills. The reason this is my plan is simple, I generally get super nervous speaking a foreign language to those who are fluent, and my nerves lead me to simply avoid any situation in which I might have to speak. Basically, I nod and smile A TON, without having to say anything, or just speak English when communication is unavoidable. However, ice cream is a great love of mine, a soul mate if you will, and something I cannot live without. To secure ice cream in Alpignano I must speak Italian, and thus the plan begins.
Below are some simple tips for learning Italian acquired through ordering far too much gelato
Attempt 1 – The Basics
Okay, so to get the ball rolling, my first gelato experience was with my new Italian family, my au pair hosts. So perhaps it doesn’t count as an attempt at Italian for me, but I did learn some helpful tidbits of language. Firstly, gelato is ice cream, unlike in Canada where you can order gelato or ice cream, Italians generally consider ice cream to refer to store-bought treats and gelato refers to the scrumptious, homemade variety of dessert.
Attempt 2 – Sound It Out
Time to spread my wings and take my Italian out to sea. Yeah, no , absolute failure. “Medio”, or medium seemed like an easy enough phrase to master, but I struggled with the intonation and ended up simply pointing to the cone size on the menu. Lesson learned from this experience? Italian is quite phonetic, meaning that you pronounce every letter in the word. Big change from the silent letters of English and French.
Attempt 3 – Easy as 1,2,3
I would like to say that this was shaping up to be my third cone in 5 days, not too shabby. Again, I was with my Italian family, and as such was feeling calm about the experience. We were at Romana’s, a gelato chain where they fill the bottom of your cone with melted chocolate (honestly delicious and highly recommended, find a time to go whenever you’re in Italy), and here I learned a most valuable lesson; before arriving in a new country, learn to count to at least ten in the local language. Gelato in Italy can be ordered by size, but generally you are charged based upon the number of flavours you order. With that in mind, it is super helpful to know how to count. This skill also comes in handy when trying to pay for anything.
Attempt 4 – Double Trouble
The most entertaining moment in my quest for gelato came as I ordered gelato for the fourth time. Instead of purchasing 1 cone with 2 flavours, I bought 2 cones. Of course, I tried to play this off as an act of kindness/ paying it forward type thing, but I am pretty sure the owner of the gelato shop was just confused. The lesson learned here is simple, when ordering gelato “gusti” means flavour.
Attempt 5 – Confidence
By this point I had overcome the embarrassment that was attempt 4 and had practiced counting to ten and using “gusti” in a sentence. I was feeling good and this confidence was rewarded by the successful ordering of a double-scoop cone. Here I would like to point out a fun piece of trivia, Piemonte (the region housing Alpignano) is HOME TO NUTELLA. That’s right, hazelnut and chocolate began their love story here and thus “nocciola” is a truly delectable gelato flavour.
Attempt I’ve lost count
Once I had successfully ordered gelato, it seemed that there was no stopping my consumption of the delicious iced treat. To ensure my knowledge of the language and culture of gelato was truly complete I sometimes ordered two cones in a day. I am not proud of this, but it did lead to some other worthy language lessons.
“Panna” vs. “Crema” – “panna” is a whipped cream (not served cold), whereas “crema” is similar to an old-fashioned vanilla
“Cono” – obviously meaning cone
“Coppa” – means cup, generally it seems one uses only this translation when ordering ice cream and not “tazza” as google translate had led me to believe
“Piccolo, Medio and Grande” – small, medium and large (thanks to Starbucks for teaching me that last one). As I said before, you generally order based upon the number of flavours, but sometimes size matters.
Stay tuned for a complete guide to Italian gelato flavours and more tips for ordering!