“Ti va di prendere un caffè?”
I stared blankly at my Italian friend as I tried to translate the simple sentence: taking a coffee goes to you. Huh?
She repeated the question in a more formal way: “Vuoi andare al bar per un caffè?” (Would you like to go to the bar for a coffee?”) I was embarrassed that I hadn’t recognized an invitation when I heard one, but she quickly reassured me that “ti va” is idiomatic, the Italian equivalent of asking, “Do you feel like a coffee?”
As in English, Italian invitations run the gamut from the ultra casual to the punctiliously proper. Here are some of the ways you might ask someone to get something to eat:
*Hai voglia di mangiare qualcosa con noi? (Literally, do you wish to eat something with us?)
*Ti piacerebbe mangiare qualcosa con noi? (Would it be pleasing to you to…)
*Che ne dici di mangiare qualcosa con noi? (What do you say to….)
*Perché non mangi qualcosa con noi? (Why not….)
Accepting an invitation is straightforward. A simple “si, grazie!” will do, but you can show your delight in being asked by adding, “Certo!” (Sure!) “Con piacere!" (with pleasure) “Volentieri!”(Gladly) “Che bella idea!” (What a lovely idea!) or “Perché no?” (Why not?)
If you’re not sure if you can or want to go, you have to choose words that convey l’incertezza (uncertainty). “Mah, non so!” (Gee, I don’t know.) “Non sono sicuro” (I’m not sure.) “Può darsi.” (Could be.) "Forse!" (Perhaps) Or the ubiquitous "Vediamo." (We’ll see.)
Declinare un invito (declining an invitation) always requires tact. Here are some possiblities:
*“Mi dispiace, ma non posso.” (I’m sorry but I can’t)
*“Mi piacerebbe tanto, ma ho già preso un impegno.” (I would love to, but I’ve already made another arrangement.)
*“Peccato, sarà per la prossima volta!" Too bad, maybe next time!
With a very good friend, you can casually say, “No, grazie, non mi va!” (No, thanks, I don’t feel like it)
An informal invitation to a few close friends (pochi intimi) may be made face to face (di persona) by phone (al telefono) or via e-mail (attraverso la posta elettronica) or text (un messaggio sul cellulare). But certain events — such as a party for a birthday (compleanno), anniversary (anniversario di matrimonio), graduation (laurea), baptism (battesimo) or engagement (fidanzamento) — require a written invitation.
The text, say Valeria della Valle and Giuseppe Patoto, authors of Le parole giuste (The Correct Words), should be limited to the essentials, centered as follows:
il nome e il cognome di chi fa l’invito (the name and surname of who makes the invitation)
il luogo, la data e l’ora del ricevimento (the place, date and time of the reception)
l’occasione particolare (the special occasion)
Just as in English, an Italian invitation may ask you to“R.S.V.P.”– from the French répondez s'il vous plaît, meaning “reply please” — or use the italian equivalent, “È gradita gentile conferma.” Not to respond is brutta figura (bad form), and you might never get invited anywhere again.
Words and Expressions
biglietto d’invito — invitation card
invitato — guest
dare un ricevimento — give a party
un invito a nozze — literally an invitation to a wedding, used for a great opportunity or a chance to do something easily
Dianne Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language. Click here for more information on joining her for a week of writing, cooking, and savoring Italian pleasures in Capri this fall.