THE SAY-DO DIFFERENCES

In October, Martina and I piled into an already crowded café in hope of a corner table. Once a month we met there to talk, sip cappuccino, and perhaps jot a line or two in our ‘be bohemian’ notebooks. We were actually both quite busily writing when someone at the bar  burst  suddenly  into flames. Not  literally of course, but it’s the best way to describe the explosive verbal exchange that occurred when the barman served up a lukewarm cappuccio that the customer called ‘cold.’
As soon as the barman offered to restore world peace by providing another cup, the customer stepped back, took his final sip, and said. ‘No, no. It’s not necessary. Si fa per dire.’ With that, he turned and headed for the door, restoring all semblance of placidity in the piace. The barista, entirely unmoved by the episode, quickly collected the cup and saucer from the counter-top and went back to his task.
I sat watching the exchange with some measure of fascination . In English,  complaining is a catalyst for change. If you’re an English speaker and you tell the barman that your cappuccino is cold, it means you’re intent on getting another cup. In English, we talk in hopes of making things happen . In Italian, you make things happen so you can talk about them. This guy didn’t want a refill-catching the mistake was gratification enough.
And that’s where the phrase sifa per dire comes into play.
Translated literally as ‘one does so that one may say’, it’s often used as ‘Oh, never mind, I just thought you should know.’ A tell­ tale Italian expression, sifa per dire expresses unconformity and magnanimity at the same time ‘You’re wrong and I want the world to know it-but don’t worry about fixing the mess. The cleaners are coming tomorrow.’
For me, the phrase illustrates the inborn Italian ability to overlook trite daily inadequacies. In Italy, it’s essential that the culprit admit the error of his ways, but there is no real desire to punish the  perpetrator. In this country, it’s the confession that counts. Once that’s over with, it’s best to leave people to their business.
‘Martina, why do you think Italians make such a show of protesting over things they don’t really care about?’
‘They care; they just don’t expect their protests to produce immediate effects.’
‘In English, complaints are always a means to an end.’
‘Not here.’ My friend thought. ‘Maybe it’s because Italians have quite a feminine psyche.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s like what psychologists say. Women speak to find understanding. If a woman complains that it’s raining, she simply wants you to understand that she’s getting wet. She doesn’t want you to run for an umbrella necessarily. Men never quite get that. Her goal is not to solve the problem, but to share it. The same is true for Italians. They speak to share the pain and glory, not in hopes of achieving results.’
‘So you think English speakers think more like men do?’ ‘Maybe in a way’, she mused. ‘In English, speech is about problem solving. The driving force behind a gripe is the idea that “something must be done.” Italians prefer the filibuster-talk an issue to death so that nothing whatsoever will be done about it.’
The thought struck us both as immensely funny, and Martina and I interrupted our laughter only long enough to order two hot chocolates from our already disapproving waiter. He met our request with reluctance. Couldn’t we see that it was too early in the year for hot chocolate? With the sun as hot as it was, we should know better than to rush the season.
I greeted his grimace with ruffled feathers. ‘So, does all this mean you can’t make it for us?
‘Of course we can make it’, he said with surprise. ‘Sifa per dire.’
Right.
How quickly one forgets. In Italy, inappropriate choices must be disputed at all costs. Light must be shed on suspicious behaviors . But no worries. Around here, chocolate sins are very readily forgiven.

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