How To Be Courteous And Polite In Italian

avatarMille Larsen
3 mins read

We're coving the 10 most important things to know to get by in Italian. Monday we looked at Italian greetings. Today, we'll look at what I call the common courtesies.

2. Italian courtesies

When I use the term common courtesies here, I am referring to the basic courtesy phrases we all learn as children. These are things like please, thank you, excuse me, bless you, and so on... things that your mom made you say, and she got mad when you forgot.

Scusi. : Excuse me.

Scusami. : Excuse me.

(Con) permesso. : Excuse me (as I pass).

Mi dispiace. : I'm sorry.

Per favore. : Please.

Prego. : Please.

Eccolo! : Here it is. (When giving or pointing to something.)

Grazie. : Thank you.

Grazie mille! : Thanks a lot!

Molto grazie! : Thank you very much!

Prego. : You are welcome.

Non c'è problema. : No problem.

Salute! : Cheers!

Salute! : Bless you! (after a sneeze)

Mi chiamo ... : My name is ...

È un piacere conoscerla. : It is a pleasure to meet you.


We notice here that in Italian (as in most languages, in my experience) the phrase salute is used in place of the English phrases "cheers" and "bless you". I quite prefer this, as "to your health", or "be healthy" expresses a genuine wish for recovery from a health condition... unlike the phrase "bless you", which is rooted in the superstitous belief that a sneeze was actually caused by demons trapped in the body!

We also see another common phenomena here... in place of the English phrase "you're welcome" — which takes a position of servitude or deference to the person being spoken to — Italians respond to thanks by simply saying please (please), as if to say, "surely I don't deserve your gratitude." By contrast, this takes on the outward appearance of humility while subtlely retaining a sense of self-worth.

This subtle mental difference is again evident in the phrase mi dispiace, used where English speakers say "I'm sorry". Rather than lowering their sense of self-value (as is done by the phrase "I'm sorry"), Italians say "this displeases me". It's still shows a properly regretful response, but allows the speaker to retain his or her dignity.

I could (and probably will) write an entire post about these subtle psychological differences between languages. This was definitely a great opportunity to bring attention to it. It's features like these which often tend to shape the ways people perceive those from foreign countries... such as the way Americans view Italians as confident, or the way most of the world seems to think Americans apologize too much.

These are the subtleties that not only help to make you a better speaker in another language, but which also reveal the ways that speaking another language makes you more aware of your own!