Dante Alighieri, whose pilgrim lost his way in a dark wood, used the word dove, indicating place, in 1321. Ever since Italians have been asking questions such as “di dove…?” (of where, as in your home town or native country), “da dove…?” (from where, as in where you flew or drove from) and simply “dove…?” (where you are going).
However well you know your way around Italy, you always will be asking the whereabouts of essential places.
Dov’è (Where is…)
*the bathroom? You can ask for il bagno or la toilette —although a friend advises me that i servizi (the services) sounds more refined. Il gabinetto refers to the cramped rest room on a train, with only il water(pronounced vater, for toilet) and un piccolo lavandino (a tiny sink). Always check the sign on the door: Signori for Men, Signore for Women. Failure to do so led to one of my life’s most embarrassing moments: walking into a men’s room at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.
*the way in / the way out? Entrance translates as l’ingresso or l’entrata. Exits are marked with signs that read “Uscita.”
*the ticket office? You buy an admission ticket to a museum at la biglietteria or l’ufficio biglietti. At a theatre or another entertainment venue, you may be directed to the box office or ticket window, which is called a sportello.
*the cashier? There may be a sign for la cassa (the cash desk) or you can ask for il cassiere.
En route: Dov’è…? (Where is…)
*The road to…? When you ask for “la strada per… “ or “come si va ”(how does one go), be prepared for an Italian response — most often, “sempre dritto” (always straight ahead). Memorize the words for right (destra), left (sinistra), close by (vicino), far away (lontano), east (est), west (ovest), north (nord) and south (sud).
*a parking lot? A big letter P marks the location of a parcheggio in any town or village.
*a place to get gas? Look for a stazione di servizio (service station) or benzinaio (gas station).
*an ATM? You can get cash at a bancomat on city streets. A banca (bank) can handle more complicated transactions.
*the departure gate? At an airport or train station, check the large orario (schedule) for arrivi (arrivals) and partenze (departures). The binario (train track) or uscita (gate) is posted shortly before departure.
In a Tight Spot: Dov’è…? (Where is…)
*a hospital? If you need immediate medical care, go to the pronto soccorso (emergency room) at the nearest ospedale.
*a police officer? Call for un poliziotto or un carabiniere if you’re in trouble. La polizia stradale are Italy’s traffic cops.
*a pharmacy? You can get professional advice as well as medications from the local farmacia, marked by a large green cross.
*a good restaurant? Hunger constitutes a minor emergency in Italy. There’s nothing wrong with asking, “Dove posso trovare un buon ristorante?” (Where can I find a good restaurant?”) but you will get a more honest evaluation if you ask, “Dove si mangia bene?” (where does one eat well)?
Words and Expressions
Per ogni dove — high and low
Resta dove sei — stay where you are
Dovunque — wherever, anywhere
“La lingua batte dove il dente duole” — The tongue ever turns to the aching tooth
“Non sapere dove sbattere la testa” — literally not knowing where to bang one’s head — or which way to turn in a dilemma
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.