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Italian expression of the day: ‘Tirare il pacco’

Italian expression of the day tirare il pacco
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Have you ever ‘pulled the package’ on someone?

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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