Italian expression of the day: ‘Il pacco da giù’

Italian expression of the day: 'Il pacco da giù'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Here's why Italian care packages are in a league of their own.

Care packages are universal, but in Italy they tend to be sent in one direction only.

With so many Italians moving from their southern hometowns to the north of Italy to work or study, it's far from unusual for them to shuttle back and forth by car, train, plane or bus on every holiday. And in some cases, even most weekends.

But what happens when you can't make a trip home to see your family – and to stock up on much-needed supplies?

If you can't get to southern Italy, southern Italy comes to you in the form of il pacco da giù.

Giù, a versatile word which can mean “down”, “downstairs”, “under” or “below”, in this case means “down south”.

Sù means the opposite: up, above, over, upstairs.

So many Italians regularly send or receive a “parcel from down south” that the concept is well known throughout the country, and couriers are well-practiced in delivering perishable goods from door to door in record time.

While such parcels in many countries would contain comfort foods and sugary treats, in Italy you can expect things to be markedly healthier.

The contents of one pacco da giù from my in-laws n November 2018 included porcini mushrooms, pomegrates, fresh eggs, and a kilo of cheese. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

As so many Italian families – particularly in the south – have at least a smallholding on which they grow their own vegetables, they'll be concerned about their grown-up children not getting enough fresh produce in their diets while living elsewhere.

When we lived in Tuscany, my husband's family in Puglia would regularly send large, insulated packages by overnight courier. They always weighed several kilos, and were filled with fresh fruit, vegetables and even eggs from their own chickens – which to my amazement usually arrived intact.

They'd even contain things liked pasta, cured meats and cheeses from their local shops.

And of course, they also contained a few bags of homemade biscotti.

– Quante confezioni di biscotti devo mettere nel pacco?

– How many packets of biscuits should I put in the parcel?

While I initally thought my in-laws were just especially kind and generous – and overly concerned about our diet – I soon found out that this is something many Italian families do.

Of course, Italians living elsewhere in Europe will find their pacco da giù delivery absolutely essential – though the contents may need to have a slightly longer shelf life.

No doubt these parcels will become even more important this year with many people separated from family and friends over Christmas by the coronavirus travel restrictions.

If you're spending Christmas in Italy this year, away from your family in northern Europe, you may also be lucky enough to receive something that's far less common in Italy: un 'pacco da sù' (a parcel from up north), though no doubt the contents will be quite different.

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

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