Sometimes phrases convey a meaning that goes beyond their literal one.
No matter of well you know a language, there’ll always be hues of meaning that you might not immediately get until a native explains them to you or until you spend some time in the country where such language is spoken.
Helping you dive deeper into these hidden shades of the Italian language is the purpose of this series of posts, which I started a while ago. The phrase that first gave me the idea for such series was “metti su l’acqua“, which literally means put the water on, referring to the water for pasta.
After this phrase, I selected “ci prendiamo un caffè?“, which is a question we always use when we want to propose to someone to have a coffee. Then came “io porto le paste“, which has to do with Sunday lunches and spending time with family and friends – something we Italians give great importance to.
Some time has gone since my last post because I didn’t seem to find another good phrase to be used. And then I found it: the phrase I chose for today’s post is “facciamo merenda?“, where merenda literally means afternoon snack or tea snack and is actually a way to propose to someone to have some snacks together.
But there’s more, of course.
Merenda is a word that makes you immediately think of your childhood. Merenda is much more than a snack: it is the little meal your mother or grandmother would prepare for you in the middle of the afternoon – usually around 4 pm. It would most likely consist of something sweet, a homemade cake, some cookies or – if you were really lucky – bread and Nutella. You might also get something to drink, like some tea or fruit juice.
When we were kids, we would usually come home from school around 12.30 pm, eat our lunch, do our homework and then wait for merenda, which actually marked the beginning of the rest of the afternoon, when you could play, watch TV or just go out and do some sports. Having merenda was not just a way to fill our hungry stomachs, but also a relaxing moment where we could stop thinking about what we had to do and start planning games and fun stuff.
The only moment Italian kids hated merenda was in the summertime, when you were at the beach, because if you had merenda it would then mean that you had to wait a few hours before being able to go into the water again.
Therefore, that slice of bread and Nutella eaten under the beach umbrella had some kind of bittersweet feeling with it: it was a nice treat after a hours spent playing in the water but also a sign that you should find something else to entertain you instead of going back into the sea.
Some of you might think “well, why don’t you refuse to have merenda, then?”. If you think so, you probably have never had something to do with an Italian mother. As a kid, you can’t refuse food.
The biggest issue for Italian mothers – at least of those belonging to the older generations – was having a kid who didn’t eat enough. So the habit of having merenda was forged into our DNA one slice of bread and Nutella at a time.
This is why we are so fond of this habit and why, when we ask someone “facciamo merenda?” it doesn’t just mean let’s eat something, but also let’s get cosy and treat ourselves with something sweet and nice, taking some time to savor our food and taking a break from daily routine.
We might not be able to have merenda every day, due to our busy routines, but when we do, it’s like going back to those days when we would eat our sweet treats while watching cartoons on tv.
But tell me, is there a similar habit in your culture? Let me know!
If you are interested in learning more about Italian culture and lifestyle, I’d suggest you jump on my digital Vespa and join Be Italian For A Month, your 30-day virtual journey to Italy.
You will also learn some Italian words, you’ll receive some typical Italian recipes – ready to be cooked and enjoyed, you’ll get to tour around Italy, and learn about Italian traditions, proverbs, stereotypes, you name it. Plus, some cute surprises along the way!