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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Tirare il pacco’

Have you ever ‘pulled the package’ on someone?

Italian expression of the day tirare il pacco
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You sit down at a picturesque bar on a quiet piazza and order your aperol spritz aperitivo, waiting for your date to join you.

But the minutes tick by and they don’t appear, and three quarters of an hour later you find yourself draining the last drops of bitter orange liquid alone as your ice cubes clink against the side of your empty glass.

You’ve been stood up: or in Italian, your date has tirato il pacco – literally, pulled the package on you.

O ha tirato il pacco o ha avuto un’incidente.
He either flaked or he had an accident.

Ti prego, non tirarmi il pacco.
Please don’t bail on me.

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A very common variant is tirare un bidone (literally, to pull a bin).

Ho aspettato per ore, ma mi ha tirato un bidone. 
I waited for hours, but she blew me off.

Non sono stato io a tirarti un bidone.
It wasn’t me who stood you up.

As colloquialisms, these expressions are flexible, and can be phrased as any of tirare/fare/dare il/un bidone a qualcuno (pull/do/give the/a bin to someone) or tirare/fare il/un pacco a qualcuno (pull/do the/a package to someone) while retaining the same meaning.

Then there’s bidonare – literally, ‘to bin’ – which also means to bail on someone.

Non puoi bidonare la gente.
You can’t stand people up.

Avete bidonato e rovinato la festa.
You bailed on the party and ruined it.

Where do these expressions come from? No one actually seems to know for sure, though some have ventured to speculate.

One theory is that tirare un bidone or bidonare refers to the idea of offering someone something good only to ‘pull out’ rubbish instead – or simply that you’re treating the other person or your relationship with them like trash.

Similarly, tirare il pacco could refer to the old street vendor’s scam of making a sale and then handing the customer an empty package with something worthless inside, for them to discover the truth only when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Aside from missing an appointment, both phrases can also mean to renege on an agreement or to scam someone, so these explanations make particular sense if you bear in mind their broader meanings.

Avete visto come si tira un bidone.
That’s how you pull a con.

Ho comprato quegli stivali online a un prezzo bassissimo, ma non mi sono mai arrivati. Mi sa che mi hanno tirato un pacco.
I bought those boots online at a very low price, but they never arrived. I guess they scammed me.

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Another common phrase for ‘stand someone up’ is dare buca a qualcuno – literally, to give someone a hole (made of your absence).

Ho aspettato per ore, ma mi ha dato buca e non mi ha neanche chiesto scusa.
I waited for hours, but he stood me up and never even apologised.

Non avrei dovuto dargli buca.
I shouldn’t have stood him up.

This one always means to stand someone up (and not to trick or scam them).

Fortunately, going out to have an aperitivo – or two – by yourself with only a book or a phone for company is perfectly acceptable in Italy. Cin cin.

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

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Inciucio’

Here's a word you'll need to deal with ahead of Italy's elections.

Italian word of the day: 'Inciucio'

With two days to go until Sunday’s general election, there’s talk of a potential ’inciucio’ everywhere from the pages of newspapers to the heated conversations at sports bars up and down the country.

So what is an ‘inciucio’ and why does the word seem to be on everyone’s lips whenever Italy faces elections?

Briefly, ‘inciucio’ is political jargon that describes any type of dubious agreement or, if you will, compromise reached by two or more political parties generally holding opposite views and ideals.

There’s no direct translation into English, though a native speaker would probably refer to it as something of a dodgy backroom deal.

Non c’è una maggioranza chiara. 

Eh, figurati. Faranno il solito inciucio.

There isn’t a clear-cut majority.

Oh, that’s not new. They’ll go for the usual deal.

Such an agreement is usually necessary when forming a large coalition government, with terms largely assumed to be based on the “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” principle. 

READ ALSO: Salvini vs Meloni: Can Italy’s far-right rivals put differences aside?

With that definition in mind, it’s hard not to see why ‘inciucio’ is such a commonly-used word in Italy, a country whose political class has historically been partial to improbable alliances with their previously hated rivals. 

Cosa pensi delle prossime elezioni?

Preferisco non pensare. Ne ho avuto abbastanza di questi inciuci. 

What do you think of the next elections?

I’d rather not think. I’ve had enough of these political deals.

Purtroppo, con questa legge elettorale, l’inciucio tra partiti è l’unica via per avere un governo…

Fammi un piacere. Gli inciuci esistevano anche 60 anni fa, molto prima di questa legge elettorale.

Sadly, with the current electoral system, a compromise between different parties is the only way to form a new government.

Do me a favour. These types of agreements existed 60 years ago, well before the present electoral system.

While the noble art of the inciucio goes back a long way in the history of republican Italy, the term itself was only coined in 1995 by Massimo D’Alema, then secretary of the left-wing Democratic Party (PD). 

The expression only rose to popularity a couple of years later, when the founder of the term thought it fit to put the word to good use and reached a ‘non-aggression pact’ with the then-leaders of Italy’s right-wing coalition – the agreement went down in history as the patto della crostata or ‘pie pact’ – but we’ll keep that story for another time.

Ever since then, the term ‘inciucio’ has been regularly used by political commentators as well as the wider public to discuss the various power plays of the country’s major political forces.

For instance, the most classic of inciuci was at the foundation of Giuseppe Conte’s first cabinet back in 2018, when Matteo Salvini’s League and Luigi Di Maio’s Five-Star Movement unexpectedly found sufficient common ground to form a coalition government.

So, will we see another inciucio this time around?

Given the unpredictable nature of Italian politics, you’ll forgive us for not ruling out the possibility of another inciucio just yet.

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