English speakers who travel to Italy for a work conference often feel self-conscious about their pronunciation or their command of Italian grammar. But it turns out that a marked accent and a few grammar mistakes are not the real problems. If you’ve been to Italy for business a few times and you always feel like an outsider, your repertoire might be in desperate need of a few business idioms in Italian that will allow you to mingle with the crowd.
If you have a business trip to Rome, Milan, or Naples ahead of you, make sure you know how to use these Italian business idioms.
1. Mettere le mani avanti – To put one’s hands before/to set boundaries
This idiomatic expression is used when you want to make it clear that you are not going to do something that goes against your principles or that you are not going to do something that you have already said you would not do. Instead of putting your hand up as if saying "Stop", you can use Italian idioms to imply that you don't agree with what is being discussed.
Non farò mai una cosa del genere! Metterei le mani avanti.
“I would never do something like that! I would put my hands before.”
2. Il buon giorno si vede dal mattino – A good day can be seen as early as the morning starts.
You know how it works. When you start off your day on the wrong foot, you can sense that everything will go downhill from then on. This idiomatic expression (one of our favourite idioms in Italian!) is used to point out that it is possible to predict how a day, or more generally a situation, will develop by observing the beginning.
I rappresentanti del marchio sono arrivati in ritardo al primo incontro. Non credo che dovremmo fare affari con loro. Il buon giorno si vede dal mattino.
“The representatives from the brand were late to the very first meeting. I don't think we should do business with them. ‘A good day should be seen in the morning.’”
3. Chi dorme non piglia pesci – Those who sleep don’t catch fish
Aren’t idioms in Italian creative? This idiomatic expression is used to encourage someone to take advantage of an opportunity because it might not come again. It is similar to the English idiomatic expressions "strike while the iron is hot" or "seize the day". This is the perfect business idiom in Italian to suggest that someone should act quickly.
Non so quanto tempo ci vorrà per avere un'altra opportunità come questa. Chi dorme non piglia pesci!
“I don't know how long it will take to have another opportunity like this one. Those who sleep don't catch fish!”
4. Sei proprio un furbetto – You're such a fox!
Business idioms in Italian are not always as transparent as one would like. Just like the expression above doesn't have anything to do with actual fishing, this one is not about foxes either. The phrase Sei proprio un furbetto is used to describe a situation where there is always someone who tries to take advantage of others or doesn't play fair. You can use it when you realize that someone is not being completely honest with you or when someone is trying to make you do something that you don't want to.
Non posso credere che abbiano alzato i prezzi all'ultimo minuto. Sono proprio furbetti!
“I can't believe they raised the price at the last minute! They're such foxes!”
5. Mettere i bastoni tra le ruote – To put sticks between somebody’s wheels
This idiomatic expression is used to describe the act of sabotaging something or making it more difficult. You can use it when someone is deliberately trying to make your life harder or when you want to accuse someone of making things difficult on purpose. Just make sure you don't point your finger at them while you use this one. That would make it sound even more aggressive than it already is!
Mancano solo due giorni al pranzo e non abbiamo ancora ricevuto risposta. Penso che siano giusti mettendo dei bastoni nelle nostre ruote
“I don't know who it was, but they put sticks between my car's wheels.”
There are only two days left before the lunch and we haven't received an answer yet. I think they are just putting sticks between our wheels.
6. Chi va piano, va lontano – Those who go slowly, go far
This idiomatic expression is the Italian version of the English "slow and steady wins the race". It is used to encourage someone to keep going even if it seems like they are not making much progress. Just like in English, this idiomatic expression can be used in different contexts. For example, you can use it to motivate a team member who is working on a long-term project or to encourage yourself to keep going even when you feel like you're not getting anywhere.
Questo progetto richiederà molta pazienza. Ma chi va piano, va lontano.
“This project will require a lot of patience. But those who go slowly, go far.”
7. Meglio un uovo oggi che una gallina domani – An egg today is better than a chicken tomorrow
This Italian business idiom is used to describe the trade-off between a small, immediate reward and a larger, future reward. It is similar to the English idiomatic expression "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". It is often used in business to describe the decision between investing in a long-term project or taking a quick profit.
I dirigenti hanno preso la decisione di investire in un nuovo progetto, anche se ciò significava rinunciare a un profitto immediato. Meglio un uovo oggi che una gallina domain.
“The managers decided to invest in a new project, even though it meant giving up immediate profit. An egg today is better than a chicken tomorrow.”
8. Quando il gatto non c’è, i topi ballano. – When the cat's away, the mice will play
Business idioms in Italian may help you make a good impression on your boss, but they may also be a good way to have fun with co-workers. This idiomatic expression is used to describe what happens when there is no one in charge at the workplace. It is often used in to describe a situation where employees take advantage of their boss's absence.
"Perché ridete tutti così tanto? Ti sentivo dal mio ufficio!"
"Il capo è via! Quando il gatto è via, i topi giocheranno"
"Why are you all laughing so hard? I could hear you from my office!"
"The boss is away! When the cat's away, the mice will play".
Italian idioms can be a fun way to impress your boss or to loosen up co-workers. But they also have a practical purpose, as they can help you make better business decisions. Just make sure you use them correctly so that you don't sound like a total beginner! And if you're ever in doubt, just ask one of our native Italian teachers.
That's right. At Listen & Learn, we work with native speakers of Italian who also happen to be fully qualified teachers with years of experience! Just send us a quick message and we'll pair you up with one of them so you can keep learning idioms in Italian and more!