Being Italian … is your ego under control?

Italian Slushies

Italian Slushies (Photo credit: razvan.orendovici)

I have some fond memories of Italians in their native land, even though I don’t know much about them, apart from what one sees in the media and on film and so on. It has been a long time since I was in Italy. When I was nine my father took us on a great holiday, cruising on an Italian vessel, “M/V Africa”, from Beira in Mozambique round the Horn of Africa and up into the Mediterranean until we disembarked in Trieste. The ship, being part of the Lloyd Triestino Line ( was manned mostly by Italians and while on the journey I had my first crush as a child on one of the crew! But alas my feelings were not returned, haha. I was spurned for another twice or three times my age, can you believe it! 🙂

The only other time I was in Italy after that was another family holiday and this time I was in my mid-teens. On our last day, we had checked out of our hotel and were getting into a taxi when the hotel manager came running towards us. “Quick, quick, get in, hurry” my dad said, trying to bundle us into the cab and urging the driver to speed off for the airport. “He probably wants more money. Pretend not to notice him.” But it was too late. The manager caught up with us. “Your passports,” he said, waving them in the air. “You forgot your passports!” The moral of the story, I think, is to trust an Italian, and never trust my father :).

We have large Italian communities in Australia and it is always nice to go to the Italian districts for a coffee or gelato and to sample the atmosphere. If you are being a typical Italian male in Sydney then most probably you will drive down Norton Street in your souped up Alfa Romeo with a Tiziano Ferro song blazing at full blast on your sound system. As you drive along you will check out all the talent walking down the street and cast admiring glances at your own and your car’s reflection in the shop windows. 🙂 I was flicking through Lonely Planet’s Italian phrase book and it had a section on pick-up lines – Ti posso portare a fari un giro (in moto)Can I take you for a ride (on my bike) – and how to reject unwanted advances, my favourite one being Il tuo ego è fuori controlloYour ego is out of control.

So, down to business. The bad news is that Italian also has two “to be” verbs, essere and stare. According to the above mentioned phrase book, the former is generally used to describe ongoing characteristics (like ser in Spanish and Portuguese) and the latter describes temporary states or locations (like estar in Spanish and Portuguese). Here is how they are conjugated

Subject pronoun      essere / stare          English translation

io                                   sono / sto               I am

tu                                   sei / stai                   you are (informal)

Lei  (capitalised)            è / sta                     you are (formal)

lui / lei                             è / sta                     he / she / it is

noi                               siamo / stiamo          we are

voi                                siete / state               you are (plural)

loro                               sono / stanno            they are

See the posting from December 21, 2012 (Hey you! Which ‘you’ should you use?) and the replies for explanations on when to use tu and Lei. It is pretty much the same as in French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Now for some music. Who is Tiziano Ferro, you may ask? He is an Italian singer who has also sung in French, Spanish, Portuguese and English, so if you are interested in Romance languages you should investigate him (not sure about his Romanian repertoire, though). I first heard of him when I spotted his song Alucinado on MTV in Argentina, taken from the Spanish version of his debut album Rojo Relativo (the Italian version is Rosso Relativo, and the equivalent song title on it is Imbranato.) According to my dictionaries, alucinar is an intransitive Spanish verb meaning to hallucinate, but when used in the transitive it can mean to deceive or to fascinate. But imbranato in Italian is an adjective meaning clumsy or awkward, or as a noun a clumsy person. Rojo / rosso means red and I think the album title must be a play on “red hot” (rojovivo in Spanish), so I guess it means the more modest and self-effacing “relatively hot”. But I could be wrong. Anyway, here are the links to the songs in Italian, Spanish and French, and it is the chorus that is the making of the song, really, in my opinion.

Which do you prefer, the Italian, Spanish or French version …. is one language more musical than the other?

Here you will find the Italian lyrics with the English, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian translations (among others) alongside:

In researching this I have just found out Tiziano recently revealed he is gay so maybe those macho Italian boys won’t be playing his music so loudly while cruising down Norton Street after all.



Being Spanish means giving the vocal cords a good workout

Spanish Soccer Fans

Spanish Soccer Fans (Photo credit: braveheartsports)

Being Spanish is a bit like being Portuguese except you just have to be a little bit more vociferous. While the Portuguese can be reserved, relatively speaking, the Spanish are not shy and their vocal cords get a good workout! Put four Spanish families in a restaurant and the place will be buzzing. You would need 40  Australian families or 400 Poms to generate the same atmosphere, I reckon. (Although funnily enough, in South America I found the Argentinians to be more reserved than the Brazilians. I can’t speak for the rest of Latin America.)

Like Portuguese, Spanish has two verbs meaning “to be”, and like Portuguese they are ser and estar. Again, the former is usually used for more permanent situations, the latter for more temporary conditions. Furthermore, Spanish also has an informal singular “you” – – and a formal one – usted – which uses the third person just like você does in Portuguese. But Spanish differs and gets a little more complicated in that it has masculine and feminine forms of “we” (nosotros, nosotras) and “you” plural, and in Spain at least has both an informal “you” plural (vosotros, vosotras) and a formal one (ustedes). However, in the rest of the Spanish speaking world only ustedes is used apparently.

Phew! If it all sounds very complicated there is a very good tutor of both Portuguese and Spanish on YouTube by the name of “Professor Jason”, whose sign on name there is languagenow. I find he sets a good pace with his lessons, whereas other tutors can be terribly slow. Check him out.

Here is how they are conjugated

yo                                 soy / estoy            (I am)

                                 eres / estás          (you are, singular, informal)

él, ella, usted             es / está               (he, she is, you are, sing. formal)

nosotros, nosotras   somos / estamos    (we are, masc, fem)

vosotros, vosotras         sois / estáis      (you are, plural)

ellos, ellas, ustedes         son / están       (they are, you are)

One day I will find a better way of tabulating these damn things! In the forthcoming posts we shall conjugate “to be” in Italian and Romanian (let’s hope both languages have only one form of the verb), and then revise it in all five languages side by side. That will get our five tongues wagging. Adios amigos! P.S. Who do you think are the most vocal  or extroverted of the Latin Americans?

May your Christmas happiness be fivefold at least

Cover of "Joyeux Noel (Widescreen)"

Cover of Joyeux Noel (Widescreen)

In English we usually say Merry Christmas or Happy Christmas, the French tend to be joyous and go for Joyeux Noël, the Portuguese wish one another a feliz Natal, the Spanish go for feliz Navidad, the Italians say Buon Natale, while the Romanians opt for Crăciun fericit. You can see here that “happy” part in Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian is related – feliz for the Iberians and fericit for the Romanians. This shouldn’t be surprising as  English has linked words such as felicity, felicitous and felicitations, as indeed does French. The English word Christmas is obviously related to the name of Jesus Christ, but the French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese names are derived from the Latin word natalis. The word “natal” exists in English too, of course, as a adjective meaning relating to the place or time of one’s birth, and there are other related words such as postnatal, nativity, etc.

The odd word out here is the Romanian one for Christmas, Crăciun. It seems none of the countries bordering Romania (such as Bulgaria, Hungary or Serbia) have similar words. I did a hunt on the web and found it listed as an entry at .

Here is the main explanation:


Probably from Latin creātiōcreātiōnem, with the meaning derived from that of the creation or birth of a child, e.g. Jesus’ birth on Christmas. Compare the archaic meaning of Spanish criazón (“person or child living in a house under the authority of another”), of the same origin (cf. crío and the verb criar in Spanish); compare also Sardinian criatzione, with meanings related to child. The Romanian word had an older, archaic meaning of “birth” in church or religious usage, and is also used for the holy image of Christ’s birth.

Incidentally, I was going to choose a stereotypical Christmas image for this posting but came across the poster for a great and moving French film, Joyeux Noel, which centres on a Christmas day in the trenches in the first world war. I would recommend it if you haven’t seen it already.

Anyway, whatever your language, whatever your religion (or lack of), have a good one. Cheers.

Hey you! Which ‘you’ should you use?

London Opinion

London Opinion (Photo credit: Vintaga Posters)

In French and Portuguese you have to be careful which form of the second person subject pronoun (tu or vous in French, tu or você in Portuguese) you use, because there are social distinctions to consider. In English, this doesn’t apply because nowadays we use you to cover every situation (the language having dropped “thou” some time ago, although it is still used in prayers, hymns etc).

If you are learning Brazilian Portuguese perhaps the guide books will mention that there is a tu form but will say it is never used in Brazil so you don’t have to bother learning it. Great, you might think, I won’t bother! Which is exactly what I did. It was one less verb form to learn off by heart. But I soon regretted it. When you go to Portugal you soon realise that tu is used widely, and then you have play catch-up with your learning.

In Brazil the situation is simple, você is used for the second person singular and vocês for the second person plural, regardless of social distinctions. Here, for example, is a Brazilian tutor on You Tube (search for the name 100VKK) running through the verbs ser and estar…. note the total absence of tu. But also note that the verb is the same for both the second and third persons.

(Incidentally, her English accent is typical of a Brazilian, and it is quite useful to recognise that accent because if you are in an English speaking country and you hear someone talking like that, you can be sure they are Brazilian. Then you should wander over and chat in Portuguese, for practice. Brazilians have a unique way of speaking English, in my opinion, and I really like their accent.)

In Portugal, however, tu is used in informal social contexts (among one’s peers, friends, and lovers, and you will hear it a lot in love songs). Você might be used for more formal situations (addressing a stranger, or one’s elders or superiors, for example) but even here you have to be careful. Using você might be disrespectful – it could imply disdain or scorm. (As in “You! Winning a prize. I don’t think so!”) It is far safer when approaching a strange man to use o senhor, or a senhora for a strange woman, and again here you would use the same verb ending as you would for the third person ele or ela.

I have no idea what the situation is with tu and você in the other former Portuguese colonies such as Angola. If anyone can enlighten us on this point, please do so.

In French, the situation is not as complicated as it is in Portugal. Tu would be used in the same circumstances, while vous would be used more formally. The vous singular takes the same verb form as the vous plural, though, but if there are adjectives involved they will have to agree in number – vous êtes malade (you, singular, are sick), vous êtes malades (you, plural, are sick).

To give you a sample of a Portuguese accent as opposed to a Brazilian one, using the verb ser, here is a song Eu não sou ela (I am not her) by Rebeca. I quite like the tune, but can’t work out why the video to this song, which I presume is about a love triangle, involves Rebeca standing on a roof or wandering around looking lost. Perhaps that is what love triangles do to people, make you sing on rooftops. Anyway, enjoy it and note that sou is pronounced like sew or sow and not like sue….

The first part of the chorus goes like this: Porque eu não sou ela/eu sou eu, e não posso ser a mulher que eu não sou (Because I am not her, I am me, and cannot be the woman that I am not.) Later I will try to translate the whole song. I found the complete lyrics (letras in Portuguese) at the Animar a Malta website, which specialises in Portuguese music and has links to lots of Portuguese music radio stations. Cool! Or as one might say in Portuguese, Legal!

Eu dei-te algum tempo para esquecer

A lembrança que até hoje te consome

Até te perdoei por te querer

Essas vezes que trocavas o meu nome

Mas hoje cansei-me de fingir

De usar roupas e perfumes que ela usava

Eu posso te amar mas vou sair, não te quero dividir

E não posso mais vencer esse fantasma

Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Eu sou eu

E não posso ser a mulher que não sou

Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Digo adeus

Não posso vencer a força desse amor (x2)

Eu tentei lutar contra esse amor

E as recordações que tinhas do passado

Mas como ganhar contra quem foi

E é ainda quem tu vês em todo o lado

Agora acabei por desistir

E deixar-te com essa paixão perdida

Pois sei que não posso mais seguir

A saber e a sentir que nunca vou ser o amor da tua vida

Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Eu sou eu

E não posso ser a mulher que não sou

Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Digo adeus

Não posso vencer a força desse amor (x2)


Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Eu sou eu

E não posso ser a mulher que não sou

Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Digo adeus

Não posso vencer a força desse amor (x2)

Being Portuguese … sendo Português … is complicated

Brazilian, Portuguese Flags And More

Brazilian, Portuguese Flags And More (Photo credit: austinhk)

Being Portuguese is not quite as simple as being French. First you have to work out if you are Portuguese Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese. There can be big differences.

If you are Portuguese Portuguese and you are a man you will convert your whole backyard into a vegetable patch, and grow your own grapes to make your own wine. When friends come to dinner you be very hospitable as usual, you will give them plenty of food, and a little glass of  your homemade wine for them to sample. Out of politeness they will say, é bom – it’s good (but privately they may be thinking é horrível). But you will take them at their word and, thrilled that you have finally found someone who loves your homemade wine, fill up their glass to the brim and you won’t notice the look of horror on their face because now they have got to drink all that stuff. But never mind because if there is a Portuguese woman in the household you know the food on the table will be good. Portuguese people are great cooks (except the one I live with haha).

If, on the other hand, you are Brazilian Portuguese then you certainly won’t be attending your vegetable patch. You will be down at the beach showing off your gorgeous body, sipping a coco gelado (chilled coconut) while watching glorious sunsets and admiring the athletic prowess of those playing football and volleyball on the sand. Oh to be Brazilian!

All right, stop fantasising now and let’s learn the verbs to be in Portuguese. Well, it will be a bit tough because there are two verbs, not one – ser and estar – as indeed there are in Spanish. Trust the Iberians to complicate things!


eu sou                            (I am)
tu és                               (you are, familiar, used mainly in Portugal)
ele, ela, você é             (he is, she is, you are)
nós somos                     (we are)
vós sois                         (you are, archaic use only)
eles, elas, vocês são   (they masculine, they feminine, you plural are)


eu estou
tu estás
ele, ela, você está
nós estamos
vós estais
eles, elas, vocês estão

When to use tu and você requires some explaining which I will do in the next post (the archaic vós we can forget about). Here we will just outline the differences between the two verbs. Basically ser is used for more permanent notions (such as one’s nationality, one’s profession) while estar is for temporary or variable ones. Hence you might ask someone como está?how are you? How they are today might be different from yesterday.

If you saw me walking down the street, though, you would say Bernardo é bonito (Bernard is handsome) because my handsomeness is so permanent :D. But if on the slight chance – and I must stress that it’s a very slight chance – I wasn’t looking so good, say I was having a bad hair moment – you might say Bernardo não está bonito agora (Bernard is not handsome right now), the implication being that this is a mild lapse and his normal handsomeness will return shortly. And you would never, ever say Bernardo e feio, meaning Bernard is ugly (permanence implied), would you now?

Being more French (or more on being French)

musique militaire du Bey de Tunis en 1905

musique militaire du Bey de Tunis en 1905 (Photo credit: histoirepostale)

One of the more enjoyable ways to immerse yourself in a language is through music, and thankfully there are many people who have already done the hard work and posted French songs with English translations on You Tube. Rather than try to offer my own pronunciation guide to the present tense of être, I did a search for “je suis” on You Tube and found this lovely song by a singer called Zazie, Je suis un homme (“I am a man”, which she is not). I gather she is not very impressed with mankind! Nice song, and an admirable political statement, I think. Anyway, there is good vocabulary to be had here:

For those who need a proper pronunciation guide, here is a nice man in a cool jersey on You Tube who covers it fully. Why couldn’t we have had someone like him as a French teacher at school instead of the grumps they gave us? I think with him my marks would have been much better 🙂

I like the way he says c’est tout (that’s all) at the end. If you want to follow him on You Tube, his nickname there is MyFrenchTutor.

And for those who want to know a lot more about the verb être, or any other, there are many websites that assist with conjugation. Here is one:

Next we will look at “being” Portuguese… it’s quite different to being French.

Being French… étant français

English: Lye croissants, popular variety of th...

English: Lye croissants, popular variety of the French croissant in Southern Germany Deutsch: Laugencroissants, beliebte Abwandlung des französischen Croissants in Süddeutschland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being French is easy. You just eat croissants for breakfast, drink coffee in a big wide cup, drink lots of wine, gesticulate frequently, philosophise a lot, and shrug your shoulders every now and then and say “pouf!” with a great show of ambivalence and perhaps a hint of disdain. I love the facial expressions of the really good actors in French films. (There is a bit of German for you in the caption on the picture, trust the croissants in the nicest pic option not to be French!).

OK, so here we go to the more grammatical sense of “being”. This will be basic to anyone who knows French already but we will run through the main subject pronouns in French and the present tense of the verb to be. Later we will do this with the other four languages one by one, and then we will recap by looking at them side by side to see if there are any related patterns or particular quirks. Once you know these verbs and some adjectives you can say lots of things (be they polite or derogatory).

être (to be)

je suis (i am)

tu es (you are, you being singular and informal/familiar)

il est, elle est (he is, she is)

nous sommes (we are)

vous êtes (you are, you being plural, or singular, formal use)

ils sont, elles sont (they are, the former being masculine, the latter feminine, if it was a combination of men and woman you would use ils)

The social etiquette of when to use tu or vous is a little complicated, as it is with some of their equivalents in the other languages. We will cover that in depth in another post later on but generally you would use vous with strangers or on formal occasions, and tu with people whom you are already friendly and familiar with.

A song for Romantics

Before we go into grammar lessons, let’s kick back and listen to this song by a veteran Romanian group that I like, called Compact. (They do a great mix of uptempo rock songs and wistful ballads.)  Continue reading