Mark Twain, Patient Mothers-in-Law, Italian Lessons and Dirty Jokes…

One of the advantages of my frequent forays to Italia is that I have found oodles of wonderful old Italian posters, advertisements and publicity pieces. Like their country of origin, they are varied and historic – some large, some small, some expensive, others really not… Each is a reminder of pasta, pizza, good red wines and Sunday markets.

1950s Original Advertising Carton Vampa Pasta
1950s Original Advertising Carton Vampa Pasta

“Europeans, like some Americans, drive on the right side of the road, except in England, where they drive on both sides of the road; Italy, where they drive on the sidewalk; and France, where if necessary they will follow you right into the hotel lobby.” Dave Barry

Carpano - Testa Vintage
1950s Carpano - Testa

I’ve been very fortunate to have spent a fair amount of time in Italy and to have learned (more or less) how to speak the language. I was – at one point – married to a very charming Italian man, who had a very charming Italian mother, who patiently helped me master the basics of this amazingly beautiful, and incredibly precise language. (There is a wonderful short story by Mark Twain called Italian without a Master – which you can read here. It’s all about learning the language, or pretending to…)

mark twain
mark twain


In a country where each region – and some towns and villages within each region – have specific dialects – you can presume to speak the language only to realize that while you may be fluent in the Italian which is spoken in the North of the country, should you travel to Sicily and try to understand what your grocer or butcher is saying, you would be completely out to sea. (Not the Costa Concordia type of sea, but still…)

Cioccolato del Monte Rosa - circa 1900

My son speaks Italian better than I do, which permits us, when we are in Italy and surrounded by tourists (who we kind of tolerate, forgetting that we are actually tourists ourselves, albeit Italian-speaking tourists) to be able to talk about those folks without having them understand exactly what we are saying.

Tourist sightseeing
Tourist Sightseeing.


Having grown up in Montreal, where most folks speak English and French and a particular kind of Fringlish (a mélange of both languages which is not fair to either but which is completely understood by both francophones and Anglophones), picking up another language was not that difficult. I can now make fun of my own language errors in Italian, make (feeble) jokes, and understand just about everything… except the dirty jokes in dialect that Italian men like to recount after meals. But I think that’s probably just as well.

Venezia Enit Vintage Poster Italian
1930s Vintage Poster for Venice.




  1. Complimenti per il blog! E’ bello leggere uno sguardo esterno sul nostro paese. (Because you learned italian I suppose I can write in my language!) Take a look here, we linked your post! A presto!

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