Summer in the Italian Language

Jun 26, 2017




Is there anyone who doesn't look forward to ferie estive (summer holidays)? Not in Italy! Italians cherish their pausa estiva (summer break) as a time of sunny days (giornate di sole), starry nights (notti stellate), lovely swims (belle nuotate), marvelous meals (pasti squisiti), visits with dear friends (amici cari) and new adventures (nuove avventure). There’s also the sublime pleasure of dolce far niente (sweet doing nothing).

Ferie are part of an old Italian tradition. 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 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”).

In Italy, as in other countries, vacationers tend to head for the mountains (le montagne) or the sea (il mare). Friends who love to climb mountains (scalare le montagne) tell me that nothing beats the thrill of climbing to the top (salire in cima) of a majestic peak. But I don’t qualify as any of the Italian words for a climber: alpinista, arrampicatore or scalatore.

As a vacanziere (holiday maker), I’d much rather head to the sea (al mare)—to walk on the beach (camminare sulla spiaggia), dive into the waves (tuffarsi nelle onde), go for a sail (andare in barca) or lounge in the sun. However, you do risk getting caught in the esodo estivo (the summer exodus or mass departure of people going to their destinations) or the controesodo estivo (counter-exodus or returning home from the holidays). 

Wherever you take your holidays (prendere le ferie), I hope you can relax (rilassarsi), unplug (staccare la spina) and delight in l'atmosfera vacanziera (the holiday atmosphere). Buone vacanze a tutti! 

Words and Expressions

Vacanzina, breve vacanza –- short holiday

Prendere un giorno di ferie –- to take just one day off

Vacanza benessere -– wellness holiday, health and fitness holiday

Vacanza studio –- study holiday (usually abroad)

Villaggio vacanze -– tourist resort

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.


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