Tag Archives: Italy

Tutti i nodi vengono al pettine

Main piece:

“Tutti i nodi vengono al pettine”


Tutti: All

i nodi: knots

vengono: come

al pettine: to the comb

Translation: All the knots come to the comb, meaning that the truth will always come out in the end and that all the bad actions or lies one commits or tells will eventually be unmasked and punished.


My informant is a 57 years old woman, born in Bologna from Italian parents. She has been told this words since she was a child and they made up much of her upbringing and education, which both had a particular emphasis on the importance of caring for the other and treating him or her as “you would treat yourself”.


My informant -my mother- has always repeated these words to me since I was really young, and when I asked her if she had some proverbs she wanted to tell me for tis collection project, she immediately brought this one up. We were having breakfast in the informant’s house.


This proverb wants to be both a teaching and a warning, a philosophical approach to the evil received and, at the same time, an educational indication that should be respected.

On on side, indeed, the proverb serves as a sort of eschatological or, better, karmic ‘prophecy’ for actions committed. I often received this proverb as a reassurance when lamenting for injustices or wrongdoings received, so as to say that those who act badly or give negative energies to others will, in the end, receive their share of punishment. 

On the other hand, this saying also serves as an advice, which basically invites you to always think twice before doing something, especially if this something involves other people as well. 

Even if my general interpretation and understanding of this proverb was mostly related to what I have just explained, as my informant pointed out, the proverb can also be interpreted with a meaning related to truth: no matter how many lies are told or how many obstacle will be placed in its course, truth will always find its way to be revealed. 

I believe this proverb to be quite representative of Italian values and principles, which have been, in time, greatly influenced by Catholicism and Christian doctrine. As a matter of fact, this proverb encompasses both the care one should have towards the other and, simultaneously, the conception of Final Judgment, which are two of the main pillars of the Roman Church.

Ear are ringing, words are singing

Main piece:

S.C.:I don’t know what kind of origin this can have, but my mum used to tell me that when your ears start ringing, someone you know is either thinking or talking about you. Ehm…From the moment that it is something related to the ear, it is said that if the ear ringing is the right one, what the person is saying is positive, while if the ear ringing is the left one, the person is saying bad things. Generally, if in the moment of the ringing you are with a group of people you should ask one random person for a number comprehended between 1 and 21, and that number correspond to a letter of the alphabet. In this way, you get to know who is talking or thinking about you, because…yeah the number the person picked corresponds to the initial of the name of who is talking and thinking about you. 

This should, also, serve as a cure for the fastidious ringing [smiles] I don’t know, saying it out-loud makes it sound absorb, but it has actually always worked for me. Every-time I asked for a number and associated the resulted letter with a person, the ringing stopped. 


My informant -my mother- is a 57 years old woman, born in Bologna from Italian parents. She learnt this practice from her mum and she passed it down to her daughter as well. She still practices nowadays. 


I was in the informants’s house when she mentioned and explained it.   


I think that this tradition is quite common for many cultures and countries, however, I am not so sure about the diffusion of the counter-action my informant suggests taking or performing.

I have always been “educated” at performing it by my mum, who, whenever her ears were ringing, would exclaim “tell me a number”, and then would start to list the alphabet to find the corresponding letter. This particular action of asking for a number can be, in my opinion, interpreted as a peculiar form of conversion superstition, which is meant to send the possibly evil energies or gossips away. In fact, if the ringing is interpreted as a bad thing -as I usually do-, the fact of discovering the source and auto-curing the ‘ailment’ by saying its name out-loud is a form of prevention and shield. 

Aperitivo – Italian Ritual

Description of Informant

AG (18) is an Italian-American dual citizen and high school student from Berkeley, CA. At home, she speaks primarily Italian, and spends her summers in Italy.

Context of Interview

The informant, AG, sits in the kitchen with her father and the collector, BK, her step-brother. Text spoken in Italian is italicized, but not translated.


BK: What’s aperitivo? Aperitivi?

AG: Basically it’s like… actually? I miss Italy *laughing*. Here in America, like, if you want to do something with someone, you have to kind of like have an excuse to do something with someone. Like “Okay let’s go to the movies,” or “Okay, let’s go to an amusement park.” You know? You’re never just walking around downtown, not really. In Italy, you just say “Oh, you want to go out?” Like that’s it. No reason. You just go out, someone walks to the front of someone else’s house, you know, whatever. And you start walking and you keep walking until you sit down somewhere to have a drink. And the drink is called an aperitivo.

BK: Is the activity called aperitivo? Like the process of going to get an aperitivo? And is the aperitivo a specific drink, or just any drink consumed during the activity?

AG: Yes… it’s like… those little midday snacks. Or midday drinks. You usually have them in the evening. The drink can be anything but it’s usually alcoholic.

*At this point, AG‘s father EG (52) interjects*

EG: You guys are gonna disagree with me on this, but I insist, and [AG] I think you’ll agree with me when you get back from Spain… it’s very much like tapas in Spain. Tapas is not a meal in Spain. It’s never a meal. It’s a snack.

AG: What is tapas?

EG: Tapas. Oh it’s very popular. It’s like small plates. But here in America, they completely misinterpreted it as like small plates that are shared, as meals. But in Spain it’s never a meal. It’s aperitivo, it’s a snack. But it’s later, too, because everything’s later in Spain.

AG: That’s similar in Italy. Like the whole culture around eating— everything is different. Like that “gastronomical culture.” Yeah it’s like everything is pushed two or three hours later. Like having dinner in the summer at like 10pm is not abnormal. And then, you have like literally snacks throughout the whole day. And like, yeah you have you breakfast, and then you usually have merenda, and then you have pranzo which is— oh, merenda is snack, and pranzo which is lunch— and then an aperitivo or two in the evening, and then you have cena which is dinner. Sometimes another merenda before dinner. Then desert. And that’s always how it is! 

BK: So going back to aperitivo, aperitivi, what’s the difference?

AG: Aperitivo is singular, aperitivi is plural.

BK: How would you ask someone on an aperitivo?

AG: Prende, take. Would you like to take an aperitivo? Like do you want to go out for one? Or you’d just ask someone to walk to the bar or restaurant with you.

BK: Is there a literal translation for aperitivo? Does it mean appetizer, pre-dinner?

AG: No, no. I would define it as a drink you have in the evening with a friend, usually one friend. You would never have an aperitivo alone. That’s weird. It’s all about the social. In Italy, food is social, period.

Collector’s Reflection

Put simply, aperitivo is a pre-meal drink, usually alcoholic, meant to whet one’s palate or “open the stomach.” It’s an extremely social ritual, as with many aspects of Italian culture. The term seems to derive from Latin for “opener” (as in opening one’s stomach in anticipation of dinner). 

One may immediately draw a comparison to American “Happy Hour” rituals, wherein peers gather over drinks in the early evening: well after lunch, but too early for dinner. These ritual gatherings do not often “limit” the number of attendees; it is interesting to note that the informant specified two individuals to an aperitivo gathering. AG clarifies that more may be present, but in her experience, it has been a one-on-one affair.

For an in-depth exploration of the Aperitivo ritual, please see:

Mussio, Gina. “The Art of the Aperitivo: The Best Italian Tradition That You’ve Never Tried.” Walks of Italy, 2 Mar. 2017, www.walksofitaly.com/blog/food-and-wine/aperitivo-in-italy-what-it-is-and-how-to-enjoy-one.

La Befana – Italian Christmas Witch

Description of Informant

AG (18) is an Italian-American dual citizen and high school student from Berkeley, CA. At home, she speaks primarily Italian, and spends her summers in Italy.

Context of Interview

The informant, AG, sits in the kitchen with her father and the collector, BK, her step-brother. Text spoken in Italian is italicized, but not translated.


AG: So, in Italy, obviously, they have Christmas. But here in America people usually hang their stockings over the fireplace during Christmastime, right? Santa Clause comes and brings them a few extra goodies in their stockings. But in Italy, what you do, is basically you get your gifts on Christmas. And the next month, in January, La Befana comes— I don’t remember if it’s before or after Christmas, but you know— umm, she comes. And she brings you, if you’re a bad child, no if you’re a good child she brings you candies and toys and a bit of money or spare change or whatever. And then, if you’re a bad child, she brings you coal! And our mom, all the time, there’s these candies in Italy that they sell a lot during this time period. They’re wrapped in black and it’s like hard chocolate, like chunky chocolate that looks like coal. So basically you would just put this candy in the stocking, and it looks like coal, so the child is like “oh no! I’ve been a bad child!” But then actually it’s just chocolate. You know?

BK: What is La Befana? Is it a human? Creature?

AG: Oh! Sorry, yeah La Befana means “The Witch.” But she’s a good witch.

BK: How is she depicted? What does she look like?

AG: Umm I don’t think it really goes into as much depth as Santa Clause. Kind of like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Yeah like flying on the broom with the hat.

BK: Does she come on a specific day or is it always a surprise?

AG: No it is a specific day I’m just forgetting the date. I think it’s in January or February but I’m not sure. And then also, something I just remembered, here we have the Tooth Fairy. There you have Il… uhh… hmm I’m forgetting. But like, same thing with the Tooth Fairy like maybe everyone has a different version of the Tooth Fairy in their minds. Right? Like is she a pocket-sized fairy or is she a larger fairy?

BK: Or is she Dwayne Johnson. Have you seen that movie? Where he plays the Tooth Fairy.

AG: Oh that’s funny. Or is it Dwayne Johnson? Same thing with the witch, like who knows what she looks like?

BK: You mentioned coal-shaped chocolate. Is it a substitute for coal as-in you’d receive it if you were naughty? Or is it a trick to make good children think they got a punishment, when in reality they got a treat?

AG: I think it’s just a trick, yeah. We usually would get toys every year and then one year our mom did this to us and we were like “What!?” At first, we were really surprised and kinda hurt, but then it was just chocolate so we were fine. And it’s not like you get a big toy, it’s just a stocking stuffer, like a pen or a slinky.

*At this point, AG‘s father EG (52) interjects to correct the date*

EG: [La Befana comes] on “The Feast of the Epiphany,” which is January 6th. Or 5th?

Collector’s Reflection

EG is correct; La Befana comes on January 5th: “The Feast of Epiphany,” the celebration of the visit of the three kings to newborn Jesus Christ. She resembles a kindly old grandmother, and, in addition to depositing gifts for the children, is known for tidying up a bit.

La Befana‘s legend is tied to the religious origin of Christmas, which may reflect why she has not been widely adopted in the United States: a region where Christmas is a greater celebration of capitalism than religion. However, her role of stuffing stockings and leaving bad children coal has been co-opted by the American Santa Claus. In contemporary America, the practice of giving coal is kept alive in name only. Generally, all children who celebrate the holiday, good or bad, receive gifts. From the informant’s perspective, the same appears true in Italy. However, the introduction of the coal-shaped chocolate keeps the tradition alive, while not entirely punishing the recipient.


For the legend of La Befana‘s origin, and a discussion of the treats she brings, please see:

Thimmesch, Debra. “The Legend of La Befana.” ItaliaRail, 20 Dec. 2019, www.italiarail.com/culture/legend-la-befana.

“In bocca al lupo” – Italian Idiomatic Phrase

Description of Informant

AG (18) is an Italian-American dual citizen and high school student from Berkeley, CA. At home, she speaks primarily Italian, and spends her summers in Italy.



Original Text: In bocca al lupo.

Phonetic: N/A

Transliteration: Into the mouth of the wolf.

Free Translation: [See Collector’s Reflection]

Responses: (1) Che crepi. (2) Crepi il lupo! (3) Crepi.

Context of Use

The idiomatic phrase is the Italian equivalent of “break a leg.” However, unlike its English counterpart, in bocca al lupo solicits a response, which may be delivered in several different ways. The phrase is used in place of “good luck” when one is entering a situation they have prepared for (e.g. performance, interview, examination, etc.)— rather than luck, you are wishing someone skill.

Context of Interview

The informant, AG, sits in the kitchen with her father and the collector, BK, her step-brother. Text spoken in Italian is italicized, but not translated.


BK: So tell me about the saying.

AG: Umm so basically when someone has an event, or a test they need to take. Instead of saying “good luck,” which is buena fortuna, in Italy you would say “in bocca al lupo.” Which is, literally translated, “in the mouth of the wolf.” And I don’t know if it has something to do with, like, Little Red Riding Hood or wherever they got it from. But then, the person taking the test, or who got good luck’ed, they respond “che crepi.” Which means like, uhh, how would you translate che crepi? Like, “I hope he dies” or “that he dies”…

BK: Who is “he”?

AG: The wolf. Yeah, that the wolf dies. It’s not super translatable.

BK: What is the appropriate context for this phrase?

AG: I think anytime someone in English would say “break a leg.” Like if I have a dance performance, my mom wouldn’t say “good luck” because it’s not luck for me, I don’t need luck to succeed, I need, you know, to do well, myself. And so she would say “in bocca al lupo” instead.

Collector’s Reflection

Into the mouth of the wolf represents plunging into danger. Often, though, this does not mean physical or life-threatening danger. In the expression’s day-to-day use, danger means the risk of failing a social performance (e.g. interview, recital, examination). The response of crepi indicates the receiver’s acceptance of the wish of strong performance, and their own hopes of success. Killing the wolf is overcoming the obstacle/challenge successfully.

The strong distinction between a wish of luck versus a wish of skill is fascinating. Luck, for Italians, is reserved for moments where circumstances are out of one’s hands (e.g. acts of God). Skill is up to the individual and their preparation. In English, you will often hear the skill-based equivalent, “break a leg,” spoken in the same breath as “good luck.” Though English speakers may understand the difference between luck and skill, their idioms conflate the concepts, while Italian speakers are very strict in their separation.