Going on Vacation in the Italian Language

Jun 19, 2011

Forte Filippo

Ferie estive

Summer holidays

For the last few weeks we have been in vacanza—più o meno (on vacation—more or less). We have enjoyed sunny days (giornate di sole) and starry nights (notti stellate), lovely swims  (belle nuotate) and marvelous meals (pasti squisiti), visits with dear friends (amici cari) and new adventures (nuove avventure).

The countryside (la campagna) of Tuscany and Umbria seems more beautiful than ever (più bella che mai), with its timeless patchwork of olive groves, pastures, and wheat fields. The weather has been meraviglioso, with skies so clear and blue that the view from our hillside (above) looks like a postcard (una cartolina).

At the delicious first stage of a new project, I also am immersing myself in research. “You are working on vacation?” (Lavori in ferie?) an Italian friend asked. As I struggled to explain the oxymoronic English concept of a “working vacation,” I realized that part of the problem is linguistic.

In 1342 the Catholic calendar referred to every day that was not a “festivo” (Sunday or a liturgical feast) as a feria. In 1353 Giovanni Boccaccio, the master storyteller of Italian literature—and, I would venture, a great celebrator of feasts—defined ferie as a period of repose that was the right of every worker.

Italians work for their living on a giorno feriale (workday) but holidays (ferie) can be paid (ferie pagate) or unpaid (ferie non pagate). The Italian term for unused paid vacation time is ferie non godute (which literally translates as holidays “not enjoyed”).

Italians traditionally prendono le ferie (take their holidays) in August,  but we prefer to andare in ferie (go on vacation) early in the season. The days are longer. The beaches and coastal towns are less crowded. And even with various commitments (impegni), we  relax (ci rilassiamo) and delight in  l'atmosfera vacanziera (the holiday  atmosphere).  Buone vacanze a voi!

Words and Expressions

ferie natalizie –- Christmas holidays

chiuso per ferie –- closed for holidays

vacanzina, breve vacanza –- short holiday

prendere un giorno di ferie –- to take just one day of vacation.

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language. 

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