There are some popular Italian phrases that have more meaning than it may seem.
If you are not a native Italian speaker or if you haven’t been living in Italy for a while, you may hear and understand them, but you may lose some of its meaning.
In the past, I have written a few posts about popular Italian phrases that have a deeper meaning than their literal one. The first post I have published was about metti su l’acqua, a common phrase (it refers to cooking pasta) that you tell someone who is waiting for you for lunch or dinner to let him or her know that you are almost home.
Another phrase that conveys more meaning than its literal one is ci prendiamo un caffè, which can be a way to let people know you want to spend time with them, or io porto le paste, a phrase that tells a lot about Italian Sunday traditions and habits. Another sentence I focused a post on is facciamo merenda?, a question that contains memories of childhood and much more.
Every time I come across a sentence of this kind, I am super happy because it is a great way to use the language to dive deeper into our culture and our way of living. After all, the language is a set of rules and a vocabulary of words to be combined but it is only a mere tool if you don’t know anything about the culture where such language is spoken.
Finding this kind of sentences is not that easy because it requires to always be alert and sometimes I am just too “into the language” to pay attention, so when it happens it is a real joy. But the phrase I want to tell you about today is actually one you hear a lot these days, so it’s impossible to miss it!
I was in Turin a few days ago and I have heard it twice in a couple of hours. The first time I have heard it it was by a student speaking on the phone with the administrative office of her university about some papers she had to collect. Another time it was a businessman speaking with a colleague about a project that needed some approval. In both cases, they said “ne parliamo a settembre“.
The sentence ne parliamo a settembre has a very simple meaning: we’ll talk about that in September. But why are all these people talking about something happening in September when it’s mid-July? Well, because in Italy everything stops in the month of August!
Actually, saying that everything stops in August might be a bit of an exaggeration but somehow it does. It all goes back to the 60s or 70s, when some really big companies, employing a huge number of people, closed down their offices and production areas for the whole month of August.
Fiat, for example, the famous automobile factory in Turin, used to do so, forcing all other companies working for them to do the same. This meant that most of the Italian automotive industry was closed for the holidays in the month of August. Since then, August has become the month of summer holidays, here in Italy.
Unfortunately, it’s not like in the 60s or 70s anymore, when people would get a whole month off but most of the employers still close their factories and businesses in the month of August and that’s when people are somehow forced to take their holidays. For sure, the week of Ferragosto – August 15th, the peak of summer holidays here – is when everybody is taking time off.
And for some strange reason I still have to understand, Italy stops even when it is not stopping. Certain public offices – like the administrative office of the girl that needed some papers – close for the whole month of August even if their employees are at work. And this happens in many other cases. For example, many big factories close down for at least a couple of weeks and supplies for other factories stop, so these other factories can’t work properly even if they are open.
Do you need a spare part for your car? Uhm, ne parliamo a settembre, suppliers are on holiday. Do you need a project to be approved by some public office? Ne parliamo a settembre, the person in charge is on holiday. Do you need an x-ray that is not so urgent? Ne parliamo a settembre, signora, the radiologist who has to sign the papers is away on holiday.
So, sometimes I have the feeling that the month of August is some kind of an excuse for slowing things down and working less hard in the peak of summer, just because. It is as if you knew that somebody may be away and so you just say “ne parliamo a settembre“, just to be safe. As if this is not a problem because, after all, we Italians are used to that!
But tell me: is there a time when everything stops in your country as well? I don’t think so!
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