by Melinda Gallo

Always learning something new

One of the things I love most about living in a different country is picking up new words and expressions. I find each language rich with history and personality. After living in Florence for almost nine years now, I am happy to continue learning new things. Itís a wonderful feeling to pick up something new. Even in English, Iím still enriching my vocabulary so it makes sense that in Italian I would do the same.

I briefly met one of my husbandís colleghi (colleagues) the other day. We didnít say much to each other, but still exchanged smiles and politely said good-bye. My marito (husband) called me on the phone after bumping into his collega (colleague) a short while after to tell me that he gave me a nice complimento (compliment).

My marito said, ďMi ha detto, 'Ť discreta,' (He told me, 'sheís discreet.')Ē ďNon Ť un complimento (Thatís not a compliment),Ē I responded. ďCerto di sž (Of course it is).Ē In Italian, discreto means discreet. How would his collega know that Iím discreet? I insisted, ďNon Ť mica un complimento. (Itís not at all a compliment).Ē

My marito laughed and said, ďSai cosa vuol dire 'discreto' (Do you know what 'discreto' means)?Ē ďCerto (Of course I do),Ē I said and explained what it means. ďSi`, questa Ť la definizione in italiano, ma a Firenze 'discreto' vuol dire 'bello.' (Yes, thatís the Italian definition, but in Florence 'discreto' means 'bello.')Ē After a big smile spread across my face, I said, ďHai ragione. » un bel complimento. (Youíre right. Itís a nice compliment.)Ē

I later remembered that a friend of mine used the term discreto to describe a guy, but in a nonchalant way. So, I understood it as meaning that he was so-so. Besides the term being used differently, the context made me believe that it wasnít really positive either. Much of what Iíve learned (and Iím sure Iím not alone) comes from how a word is said and used in context. Had my friend said, ďWow...comíŤ discreto lui!Ē I wouldíve understood it. However in Florence, I highly doubt that they would use discreto in such a way.

Another friend of mine explained that using the term discreto is a polite way to say that someone is attractive, which makes sense since it was my husbandís collega who said it. He certainly wanted to be complimentary without attaching much weight to the compliment.

I learned that there are other words that are used in a different way in Florence than their true definition in Italian. Iím eager to find out what they are. When I asked my girlfriend, she couldnít remember, but I know theyíll eventually come up in conversation. These words eventually do.

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