Italian word of the day: ‘Passeggiata’

It's not just a word. In Italy, it's an art form.

Italian word of the day: 'Passeggiata'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

It sounds like a simple enough concept, but I got this all wrong when I first arrived in Italy. So let’s talk about the passeggiata.

Fare una passeggiata means to go for a walk or stroll.

– È andato a fare una passeggiata.

– He went out for a walk.

– Andiamo per fare una passeggatia

– Let’s go for a walk

– Fa una passeggiata ogni sera.

He takes a walk every evening.

But when Italians talk about la passeggiata, they’re not usually talking about just any old walk.

The passeggiata is a time-honoured tradition in which the whole town participates, on Sunday evenings and holidays, if not most nights of the week. Usually while dressed up in their fanciest designer clothing, and shoes which are not made for walking at all.

It’s a word that’s very much associated with leisure and ease, and the feeling of having plenty of time.

In most towns the usual route would involve a stroll down to the main piazza (square) or the centro storico (old town), or perhaps along the lungomare (seafront).

This was all a new concept for me. Growing up in the UK, Sunday walks were a long and muddy affair, probably involving climbing up a hill and being splashed with dirty river water by the dog. You’d come home red-faced and windswept, and eager for a hot bath and a cup of tea.

So the first time an Italian suggested what I thought was “a walk” one Sunday, I assumed we were going to explore the nearby countryside – and I dressed accordingly.

Well, you won’t be trudging through any mud on la passeggiata. 

In fact, you’ll barely even be walking; everyone’s too busy checking out who’s with who, and who’s wearing what. If you really want to do it properly, you’ll stop to admire the view or chat with a neighbour every ten steps, before sitting down for an aperitivo.

Italians tell me the movement and fresh air helps with digesting dinner or an enormous Sunday lunch, or working up an appetite before those meals.

But most of all it’s a chance to see and be seen, show off your new relationship or designer handbag, and generally fare una bella figura, or look really good. I suppose it’s how people used to show off before social media was invented.

Once upon a time, this kind of leisurely walk was called a “promenade”. And the noun can also mean a promenade, as in a long street.

– una passeggiata alberata

– a tree-lined promenade

And it can be used figuratively to mean a “walk in the park” or a “cakewalk”

– Questo esame non sarà una passeggiata.

– This exam won’t be a walk in the park.

So, when an Italian friend suggests “andiamo per fare una passeggiata”, you probably don’t want to grab your oldest trainers and scrape your hair back, as I did on my first week in Italy, thinking “hey, I’m only going for a walk.”

Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

For members


Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’

It would only be polite to master the noble art of saying ‘please’ in Italian.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’

It usually doesn’t take long for foreign nationals residing or merely vacationing in the bel paese to realise that Italians have three different ways to express what in the English-speaking world is generally conveyed by means of a simple, unproblematic ‘please’.

Now, more often than not, the trio of expressions available in the Italian language – ‘per cortesia’, ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’ – creates a fair deal of confusion as to what form should be used and in what social circumstances.

Unfortunately, there is no official grammar rule on how to juggle the above-mentioned expressions and their use is mostly regulated by unwritten social rules and etiquette. So, to help you familiarise yourselves with the noble art of saying ‘please’ in Italian, here’s a breakdown of what each form is used for and, above all, on what occasions.

Of the three forms used by locals, ‘per cortesia’ is surely the most peculiar. The expression’s literal translation would be something along the lines of ‘as an act of courtesy’ or ‘as a kindness’, though, of course, it is generally rendered into English with the catch-all ‘please’.

According to tacit social rules, ‘per cortesia’ and its kin adverb ‘cortesemente’ are generally employed in formal settings, especially in interactions with people one is not acquainted with or does not know very well. So, for conversations with anyone that you might consider a stranger, this is the go-to expression.

Q: Mi scusi, ci potrebbe portare il conto, per cortesia?

A: Certo, arrivo subito.

Q: Excuse me, could you please get us the bill?

A: Sure, I’ll be right with you.

Q: Mi perdoni il disturbo, Dottor Rossi. Riuscirebbe a mandarmi i documenti in questione entro sera, per cortesia?

A: Certo. Provvedo subito a mandarli.

Q: I’m sorry to disturb you, Dr Rossi. Could you please send me the documents in question by this evening?

A: Sure. I’ll send them right away.

As you can see from the above examples, ‘per cortesia’ is usually placed at the end of a question and it is generally used together with the so-called ‘polite form’ (forma di cortesia), that is by addressing the person you’re communicating with as ‘Lei’ and conjugating verbs in the third person singular. 

The ‘polite form’ is usually scrapped in informal settings and so is ‘per cortesia’. Notably, in ordinary conversations with friends, family or other acquaintances, Italians switch to the use of ‘tu’ (i.e. they address the speaker with verbs in the second person singular) and simultaneously opt for either ‘per favore’ or ‘per piacere’.

The difference in meaning between the two expressions is somewhat negligible, so much so that they are often used interchangeably by most native speakers. 

However, for the sake of nitpicking, while both forms are used to ask something of people one knows very well, ‘per piacere’ is specifically used for fairly urgent and/or dramatic pleas. In other words, when you’re begging someone to do something, ‘per piacere’ is the right expression for the job at hand.

Q: Giampietro, la tua camera è un disastro. Puoi pulirla per piacere? Abbiamo ospiti a cena stasera.

Q: Giampietro, your bedroom is a mess. Can you please tidy up? We’re having people over for dinner tonight.

Q: Lo so che non ti piace come persona ma puoi fare uno sforzo e provare ad essere gentile, per favore?

Q: I know you don’t like her but can you please make an effort and try to be nice?

Q: Mi puoi prestare una penna, per favore? Mi sono dimenticato l’astuccio.

A: Ancora? Neanche per sogno! 

Q: Could you lend me a pen? I forgot to bring my pencil case.

A: Again? No way!

Hopefully, the above scenarios have given you an idea of the (very slight) difference between ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’. However, please bear in mind that the former will get the job done in almost any informal conversation, so, when in doubt, go for that and you’ll hardly ever go wrong.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.