How to Respond to 3 Common Italian Expressions that Might Throw a Non-Native Speaker for a Loop

Since most of you don’t know me in real life, you might not know just how awkward I can be. I express myself much better in writing (which is, coincidentally, why I decided to become a writer), so when it comes to in-person interactions, things can get a bit embarrassing at times… especially when I’m trying to speak my non-native language of Italian.

I have been studying the Italian language since I was in college, and even back then there were several simple phrases that stuck out to me as being impossible to respond to. My professors didn’t give a good explanation of these in my courses and native Italians just seem to know how they work without thinking about it, so I could never figure out just how I was supposed to answer them. 

So, to save you all the awkwardness that I have created for myself over the years when someone says one of these things to me, here is a cheatsheet for how to respond to three completely common but strangely hard-to-reply-to phrases you’ll hear often when speaking Italian in Italy.

 

How to Respond to “Piacere

This is where all the confusion started for me. “Piacere” or “Piacere di conoscerti” means “nice/pleased to meet you,” and people will often say it, well, right after meeting you. 

I remember the first time someone said this to me: there was a new student in my Italian course in college who had actually been to Italy before. We were waiting outside the classroom for it to be time for class to start, and we introduced ourselves. She told me her name and I told her mine, and she said “Piacere.” And I said: “Uh……...” and smiled awkwardly. Which she replied to with a weird look and by never speaking to me again.

That was not the last time someone said this phrase to me, and for years, for some strange reason, I could never figure out what the heck I was supposed to say back. “Me too?” “Cool?” “Grazie?” And it’s such a common phrase that I felt like I couldn’t just ask someone without looking like a complete doofus, so I just kept on smiling and laughing or taking that exact moment to fake getting a text on my phone until finally, at long last, after a trip to his hometown where we met ten new people a day for a week, I broke down and asked my husband what exactly I was supposed to say when someone says “piacere” to me.

The answer? “Piacere.”

Or “piacere di conoscerti” or “piacere mio,” which means “the pleasure is mine” and is the best and most polite option.

Turns out it was way simpler than I was making it in my head. Go figure.

 

How to Respond to “Buon Appetito

Everyone knows that “buon appetito” basically means “enjoy your meal” or “dig in!” But what I didn’t know is that sometimes you are actually expected to respond to this. When I was in Sicily visiting my in-laws this past summer, my husband’s mom would say this every time we ate and, as always, I would hit them with the awkward smile and weird laugh combo because I didn’t know how (or if) I should reply to that, other than just starting to eat. 

Again, was it... “Grazie?”

Not if you’re eating together. If you’re eating with other people, you reply to “buon appetito” with – surprise! – “buon appetito”. It’s as easy as that. Then you grab your fork and you’re off to the races.

If someone says it to you when you’re getting ready to eat and they’re not, you can just say “Grazie,” though. (Thank goodness! I knew that word worked as the response to something.)

And, speaking of grazie...

 

How to Respond to “Grazie” (If You Want to Say Something More than “You’re Welcome”)

This one is not one you absolutely need to get by, but it’s nice to know if you want to switch things up or use shades of meaning. 

If you know one thing about speaking Italian, you know that the correct response to “grazie,” (thank you) is, without a doubt, “prego” (you’re welcome). This works fine in any and all situations, but if you’re from the south like me, you’re probably used to saying something like “no problem!” or “don’t worry about it!” when someone thanks you for something.

In that case, you have a couple of other options. First is, “figurati,” which means, basically and casually (don’t use this in an official capacity, like when you’re at the comune dealing with bureaucratic stuff), “don’t worry about it.” You can use this if you did someone a favor and they are really happy about it, and you want to make it seem like it was nothing.

But, if you want to literally (again, casually) say that it was nothing, you can say “di nulla.”

So, as you can see, with this one you have plenty of options! Hopefully you can remember at least one of them when you’re in the situation that calls for it. 

If not, just give ‘em the old awkward smile and fake laugh. It works for me every time. 

 

Are there any common Italian words or phrases that give you trouble? Do you have any tips for the rest of us? Let us know in the comments!

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