February 27, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Buone cose

By |2024-02-23T15:14:46+01:00January 8th, 2024|Area 51|
Not all the dictionaries in the world can help you now.
L

anguage is at its best when it spits at by-now universal idioms. France of another era insisted it would never kowtow to “parking,” idiomatic Americanese at its simplest. That resistance didn’t make it past the seventies.

But here and there, little joys endure and Italian has two of my favorites – two commonplace expressions that have no ready-made Anglo-speak counterparts. And I use them often.

The first is a tiny gem worth offering at the end of any chat with someone you like.

Buone cose.

Say someone’s done you an unexpected favor or just treated you to the pleasure of polite behavior.

On paper, buone cose means “good things.” But in the vernacular of closing banter it’s closer to a spoken “I wish you all the best.”

Far better and more gracious than thanks, which lost any absolute meaning decades ago. I invariably pick buone cose over grazie because saying it suggests that you’ve actually been paying attention enough to wish someone well.

These tidbits are what short and chatty words are all about, at least to me.

Tell an American or a Brit “I wish you the best” and they’ll either fail to hear it or assume you were born into Esperanto. If anyone even recalls that halting last-century attempt at keeping the world free of English-language colonialism…

On paper, buone cose means “good things.” But in the vernacular of closing banter it’s closer to a spoken “I wish you all the best.”

Next on my miniature Italian checklist is my all-time favorite, a phrase Karl Max would have sworn by: buon lavoro.

Literally, it means “good work, but like buone cose it carries a jousting jolt of plain good will.

Buon lavoro is what you tell your barista or cab driver after he or she has done what he or she is supposed to do, serve coffee or drive. It’s a “job well done” with an “I like you” on the side to anyone destined to put in a full day’s work.

When, like a dead-eyed fish, I stumble to my local restaurant to pick up a pizza or some waiting croissants,  I smile, pay, and say buon lavoro a tutti,  the same core expression extended to everyone in earshot so that everyone’s labor (tutti) is acknowledged.

English has no “have a nice workday” expressions, preferring the generic “nice,” thus rendering the greeting unspecific and meaningless.  “Have a nice day,” like “awesome” and “unprecedented” no longer possess the show-stopping function they were meant to communicate.

Pity.

My final blown kiss goes out to another saying French has in hand and English can at least approximate.

It’s a la prossima, roughly “until the next time” or “until we meet again,” which in French is a la proachaine.

This you say to close out an encounter even if you may never again meet your counterpart. Why? That takes us back to kindness and civic sensibility, both of which are by now as exact as awesome.

Add buone cose and buon lavoro to your primitive Italian vocabulary and some, not all, will think the better of you. They might even believe you take the language seriously, because to appreciate nuance is just that.

Not very 21st-century or even necessarily text-friendly, but worth a try.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.