When talking about Veneto, I can’t help but talk about the pride that runs in the veins of the Veneti (people from Veneto) and how this sense of pride translates into their colorful daily communications. The Venetian language is an important glue that connects all Veneti everywhere in the world.
When I first moved here in 2002, learning Italian was one big objective, but I soon realized that understanding the local language was a whole new challenge. I quickly realized that most of the daily chatter on the streets was not Italian, and I couldn’t understand a word.
Nothing connects the Veneti better than their language. It’s rich in idioms, proverbs, sayings (often vulgar and funny), and aphorisms. It’s an essential element of the culture and traditions of this region. It’s also a strong part of the personality and character that defines Veneti’s distinct identity.
Venetian language and Venetian dialect are two different things
But before immersing yourself in the language, you need to know something important: the Venetian language is not to be confused with the Venetian dialect, which is specific to Venice and its province. The dialects of the various Venetian linguistic areas are actually dialects. They are not dialects of the Italian language but of the Venetian language, which comes from the ancient Venetians.
Confused? Bear with me.
The Venetian language has pre-historic roots, and it made important contributions to Latin – and vice versa later in history. It was also the official language of La Serenissima, the Venetian Republic.
As Venice was a major centre of trading, that meant that the Venetian language was an international language, adopted worldwide by the navy; many Italian nautical terms originated in Veneto, while words like ‘regatta’ and ‘gondola’ have entered the international lexicon. Venetian was also the language of art, theatre, and music, the ‘lingua franca’ of international diplomacy – the English of its day. No wonder the Veneti are so proud of their heritage.
But let’s get back to those idioms, proverbs, and sayings. First, you need to know that the Veneti are known for drinking like sponges and for being blasphemers.
Which is not surprising. When you live close to wine areas like Prosecco, Valpolicella, and Amarone, just to name a few, not drinking becomes almost blasphemous. Then there’s actual blasphemy. In the romantic atmosphere of Veneto, offenses and insults are often expressed towards Santi e Madonna – Saints and Madonnas – both in a friendly and not-so-friendly way. In restaurants, in osterias, and even in the hottest bars, blasphemy becomes a filler, a way to express both lovely sentiments and poorly concealed anger.
In Veneto, we love to drink, not because we are a bunch of drunken people, but because we love to be in company and to celebrate. Moreover, it must be said, we know how to drink, and that is not a trivial matter. And then there are quite a few sayings about wine that reinforces the Veneto pride and identity.
Here are just a few:
Chi ga inventà el vin, se no el xe in Paradiso el xe la vissìn.
Whoever invented wine, if he is not in heaven, he is close to you.
Vin rosso tegnuo al fresco fa cantar anca in tedesco.
Red wine kept cool makes people sing even in German.
Chi beve bira campa cent’ani. Chi beve vin no more mai!
Whoever drinks beer lives for a hundred years. Who drinks wine never dies!
Meio morir bevui che magnai.
Better to die drunk than eaten.
Val depí an ora de alegría que zhento de malinconía.
An hour of happiness is worth more than a hundred of melancholy.
Cuel que bíu ben, al dorm ben; e cuel que dorm ben, no l fá pecá; ma cuel que no fá pecá, al nda in paradixo: elora beón fin que crepòn.
Whoever drinks well sleeps well; who sleeps well does no harm; who does no harm goes to heaven: then let’s drink until we die.
And when in Venice, it’s not advisable to order water at a traditional local bar, because you may hear “Al acua la inmarzhís i pai.” It literally means The water rots the wooden poles – something very apt for Venice. Have a glass of wine instead!
photo from shutterstock