Why I’m “Too Tall To Be Tuscan”

Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"When I first started this blog, I wrote under the pseudonym “Too Tall To Be Tuscan”. You couldn’t find my real name or my face anywhere. Over the past (nearly) 3 years of blogging, I’ve put my name and my face out there, yet every post I write still gets posted by this person called “Too Tall To Be Tuscan”. Have you ever wondered why?

Coming in somewhere just north of 5’9″ (175 cm), or closer to 5’10” depending on the type of hair day I’m having, there’s no mistaking that I’m tall.  But I’m not an amazon. Not by anyone’s standards.

Except for maybe Italy’s.

I’ll never forget the looks I would get from my coworkers who saw me standing up for the first time (I was usually sitting in front of a computer). “Sarah, you’re so tall for a girl!” “Sarah, amazza sei alta!” Yes, it’s true that I tower over many Italian women and men, but I couldn’t believe all the comments I got (and continue to get) regarding my height.

I know Italians are in tune with footwear, both women and men, but I feel as if I get a disproportionate amount of looks at my feet in Italy. Sure, people just might be checking out the shoes I’m wearing, but I think they’re also looking to see if I’m really as tall as I am, or if my height has been helped by heels.

But the best height-related anecdote happened in the Questura, when I was being fingerprinted for my Permesso di Soggiorno. (I recounted the whole experience here.) The guy asked me how tall I was, and not being used to telling my height in centimetres, I checked my driver’s license and said “centosettantacinque” (175) with gusto.

Non può esse! It can’t be!” the police officer who was helping me cried and bounded to his feet, where he came eye to eye with this Canadian girl who is surely Too Tall to be Tuscan.


Make Your Italian Sound More Italian

La Maestra Maldestra

La Maestra Maldestra

After a delightful conversation with Cher Hale of The Iceberg Project last night, my mind got to thinking about how nonnative Italian speakers can make their speech sound, well, more Italian.

I’ve thought about this before; you can speak Italian very well, very accurately, and still not sound Italian. Why is that?

In my case, the reverse is true. The other day I was speaking to a group of Italians over Skype and I know I made a few little slip-up mistakes (mostri [monsters] instead of mostre [art exhibitions], how embarrassing!). Ciò nonostante, (nevertheless) at the end of it they were all like, “We can’t believe you’re Canadian. You sound so Italian!”

So after racking my cervello (brain), here are 5 tips I came up with to help your Italian sound more Italian:

1. Piantala (knock it off) with the personal pronouns.  Italian very rarely uses the personal pronouns io, tu, lui, lei, noi, voi, and loro, other than to reinforce a point. It is much more common to hear “sono andata al mercato ieri” (no pronoun) rather than “io sono andata al mercato ieri” (with pronoun), unless the person is trying to reinforce the point that they specifically were the one who went. None of this “io io io io” stuff at the beginning of every sentence. It sounds strange to Italian ears.

Then how do we know who we’re referring to? Well, Italian verbs carry with them the idea of who they refer to with their conjugation. “Parlo” can only refer to “io” because the other pronouns have their own conjugations: parli / parla / parliamo / parlate / parlano.  

Why is this hard for English speakers? Because we need our personal pronouns all the time to know who is doing what.

2. Learn Italian word-whiskers. What are word whiskers? They’re those little mean-nothing words that we all put into our speech when we’re trying to search for what we really want to say, or to get attention or to make a point. Why is this important? Well, um isn’t um in Italian.  It’s more like “ehhh“. So gets replaced by “allora” or “quindi” or “dunque” and I mean can be translated as, “cioè” . “Beh” is also a good one to use if you’re stalling for time and “ehhhhh” is also widely used. “Capito?”, “giusto?”  and “no?” are tacked onto the ends of sentences to make sure the listener understands, while “boh!” is what Italians say when anglophones say “dunno!”

Examples: “Beh, è proprio una bella giornata, no?” and “Voglio partire dopo il 15 aprile, capito?”

3. Talk fast. People can always tell when I’ve been in Italy, because I end up speaking English like a machine gun. I don’t know why, but Italians (in my experience) seem to be faster talkers and maybe leave less space between words. Everything gets run together.

4. Use all the suffixes you can. What? Well, whereas in English we’d describe something as a “little house“, Italians might say “una casa piccola” or they might break out the suffixes and call it “una casetta” or “una casina“. I would ask a little boy about his “amichetti” (little friends, amico + etti) at school, and describe someone as having a nasone (naso + one) if their face is unfortunately adorned with a big shnoz.

This type of talk might sound “cutesy” to we anglophones, but I can assure you that even grown Italian men go around exclaiming that things are “bellissima” (bella + issima, the most beautiful) and hope to introduce you to their “carissimo” (caro + issimo, dearest) friend.

When I asked a friend where he was spending Christmas he replied, “a casina.” At home.

5. Exclaim! Coo. Whiiiinnnneeee. YELL. and generally be theatrical in your speech. All the world’s a stage and Italians are some of its most enthusiastic players. That’s what Shakespeare said, right? Right. The Italian language is melodic in its own right, but Italian speakers are generally pretty theatrical. Don’t just say “ti prego” (I beg you), say, “ti preeeeeeeggggoooooooo” in a begging voice. And when you’ve had enough, it’s a strong “BASTA!” loud and clear. You’re trying to convince someone? Use the long, drawn-out “daaaaaaiiiiiii” (come on) and whine a bit.  Everybody’s doing it. I promise.

Have any of your own tips for sounding more Italian? Leave them in the comments section below and maybe we can compile another list. 

Practical Italy: Money

Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"


In North America, we’ve gotten into the habit of using our credit and debit cards for just about everything we purchase from our morning coffee to a new flat screen tv. The trend hasn’t quite caught on in Italy. What does this mean? For starters, you’re going to have to get used to carrying cash. By cash I mean Euro cash, not American, not Canadian, not Hong Kong dollars, not Galleons, Ducats, Florins, Knuts or Sickles. Euros. (You’d be amazed at the amount of people who think you can use American money in Italy). But why all this fuss about contanti (cash)?

Because you’re not allowed to pay for small purchases with a credit card. In some places, even for larger totals, restauranteurs and store-owners will tell you a flat out “no”when you show them your card. Then they’ll patiently wait for you to crack open your wallet to the side with the paper in it, not the plastic. This isn’t just something they do for tourists, so don’t feel like you’re being scammed. In general, Italians don’t use their credit cards very often. I actually don’t think I’ve seen an Italian pay for anything (other than business expenses) with a credit card. Cash it is, and cash you will use. Get used to it. 

In general, VAT/IVA taxes are included in the prices shown. If a gelato is listed as 2 euros, it’s 2 euros. If a hotel room is 60 euros, it’s 60 euros (plus probably a very nominal city tax, depending on where you are). If your restaurant bill doesn’t come out as high as you’d like to be, check out my Tips on Tipping in Italy.

Next, remember that your Canadian/American debit card won’t work at stores in Italy. You can’t go buy a leather jacket with your debit card. Non funziona. It doesn’t work. You need cash, (if I haven’t already made that abundantly clear). Where your debit card will work, however, is to take money out of an ATM/Bank machine, which in Italy are called Bancomats. There’ll be a limit as to how much you can get out at a time (200 or 250 euros probably) and only the larger banks will accept international cards. Look for banks that have names you recognize in them: Roma, Firenze, Venezia, Siena, Milano, etc. And if you try one Bancomat and it won’t read your card, don’t give up! This is Italy! Try another one. It’ll work, trust me.


I also find using a Bancomat is the easiest way to “exchange” in a sense, money in Italy. When you go to a cambio, or exchange place, they ask you for ID even if you’re looking to exchange 50 euros! Much less hassle just to make yourself familiar with the Bancomats and extract your foreign money out from them. If you set it up ahead of time, your bank might even have an account that waives the foreign fees. If not, you’re probably looking at between a $1.50 and $5.00 service charge every time you take money out in Italy.

Regarding traveller’s cheques, (what are those?) I don’t think anyone uses them anywhere anymore. I’ve never tried to use them in Italy but I can make a good guess that they’re probably a big hassle. Don’t go there.

Sidenote: It amazes me the number of people who ask if they should exchange some money before they get to Italy, or if they should opt to arrive in a new country without any local currency, jet-lagged, disoriented and grumpy from bad airplane food. Wrap your head around that one for a moment. Now tell me the smart answer…. GET SOME LOCAL CURRENCY BEFORE YOU LEAVE!

What’s the big deal? Well, to change money at the airport will probably leave you victim to the highest exchange rates and charges there are. Don’t bother. Also, if something happens (as it always does in Italy) and you can’t change money right away, what are you going to do then, huh?

Think about this: in some places in Italy, you have to pay a nominal fee to use the bathroom. I say again: you have to pay to use the bathroom. There are turnstiles and metal bars and the grumpy gremlin of a gabinetto (bathroom) guard won’t let you in until you pay the toll. You yourself are grumpy, grimy, jet lagged, and, to top it all off, you have to pee. Now you have to beg someone (in a language you don’t know, by the way) for a 1 euro coin just so that you can avoid peeing your pants during your first hour in Italy. You’re dragging your suitcase, trying to keep track of your travel companion(s), trying to read signs, trying not to get pick pocketed, and doing the pee-pee dance all because you didn’t take the time to change some money before your departure. It’s like Mr. Bean goes on vacation. A situation I’d try to avoid, if I were you….

Last thing to remember about money and finances when you travel to Italy: let your bank and credit card company know you’re going to be away so they don’t block your cards when they see them being used across the pond. Seriously. I booked a plane ticket once from Spain to Italy and VISA was on the phone to me in 10 minutes flat telling me someone had lifted my credit card number and was making fraudulent charges. The call certainly reassured me that VISA was taking good care to watch that I wasn’t being scammed, but it was unnecessary because I had bought the ticket myself – they just weren’t aware of my plans.