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Italian expression of the day: ‘Stare con le mani in mano’

Don’t just sit on your hands – get to learning this phrase.

Italian expression of the day stare con le mani in mano
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

In English, we ‘sit on our hands’ when we’re lazing around doing nothing; in Italian you stare con le mani in mano.

It literally means ‘to stay with your hands in your hand’, which gives you a pretty good visual picture of what’s involved (although does confusingly imply the existence of a third hand).

Non stare lì a guardare con le mani in mano, vieni ad aiutarci!
Don’t just stand there with watching, come and help us!

Se ne stanno con le mani in mano ad aspettare un miracolo.
They’re sitting on their hands waiting for a miracle.

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You may be wondering why mano takes the feminine form (una mano, le mani) despite looking like it should be masculine with those o/i endings.

The answer is that it comes from the Latin manus, which is a fourth declension feminine noun, and that stuck as the noun evolved into its modern day Italian form.

In the Latin it’s also an anomaly, as almost all other Latin u-stem declension nouns are masculine in gender; but unfortunately we can’t consult with a contemporary Latin speaker to ask them why they made an exception of manus .

To stare con le mani in mano doesn’t necessarily imply laziness or a lack of willingness to take action – it could also mean you’re forced to be idle against your will because you have nothing to do.

In this situation it’s less a case of sitting on your hands and more one of twiddling your thumbs.

Non le piace stare così, con le mani in mano.
She doesn’t like having to sit on her hands like this.

Non possiamo semplicemente starcene con le mani in mano mentre gli altri cercano di trovare una soluzione.
We can’t just sit here twiddling our thumbs while the others try to find a solution.

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If you find yourself sitting on your hands or twiddling your thumbs, try going through our Word of the Day archive and seeing how many Italian words and expressions you can memorise.

Do you have an Italian phrase you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Gita fuori porta’

No Italian summer would be complete without this phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Gita fuori porta'

As far as Italian summer traditions go, there’s only one thing more quintessentially Italian than the ‘pennica, the post-lunch nap which people from all corners of the country seem to effortlessly slip into with flawless poise and clockwork timing. That one thing is the ‘gita fuori porta’.

You might have already heard the expression on a couple of occasions, but don’t worry if you haven’t. Now that Ferragosto, Italy’s most deeply felt summer holiday, is only a few days away, listen out for it in your next conversation with Italians.

READ ALSO: Why the long August holidays are untouchable for Italians

So before we get into the ins and outs of how the ‘gita fuori porta’ works, what exactly does this phrase mean?

At first glance, the most logical translation might appear to be something like ‘a trip out of the door’. But the word ‘porta’ here has nothing to do with front doors (or houses, for that matter) as it refers instead to a city’s main entry gate.

To this day, the boundaries of most Italian towns are marked by ancient protective walls, generally dating back to Roman or medieval times. Though these walls no longer serve their original purpose, in many cases a town or city centre is still accessed via a number of gates, or ‘porte’.

So, a ‘gita fuori porta’ is a particularly Italian way of describing a trip out of town, whether that be to the seaside, in the countryside or in the mountains. 

Ti va di fare una gita fuori porta questo weekend?

Non troppo, tesoro. Fa troppo caldo.

Do you fancy a trip out of town this weekend?

Not really, honey. It’s too hot.

Marco e Maria stanno organizzando una gita fuori porta. Cosa ne pensi di unirti a loro?

Va bene, a patto che lo scegliamo noi il ristorante questa volta.

Marco and Maria are organising a trip out of town. What do you say we join them?

Okay, as long as we pick the restaurant this time around.

But what’s so special about a trip out of town done the Italian way?

Regardless of whether it’s a family trip or a trip with friends, the gita has a precise set of features that all Italians seem to be aware of from a very young age, almost as though  information on how to execute the proper gita came embedded in their own genetic setup.

Firstly, a gita is intended as a day trip, leaving no later than 10am and returning home by dinner time. Secondly, the journey to the chosen destination is always of short or medium length (i.e. rarely longer than two or two and half hours) and is made by car or motorcycle.  

Last but not least, the gita is always a hugely important social event and the smooth unfolding of the trip is seen as vitally important. As such, a number of rituals precede the days and hours before the momentous getaway.

These include: anxiously looking at weather forecasts and updates starting from over a week before the trip; concocting detailed back-up plans “just in case the weather experts get it wrong”; and finally, meticulously reading the reviews of any bar, restaurant or trattoria in a 50-kilometre radius of the chosen destination.

So, should you be tempted to join a trip all’italiana (Italian-style), make sure you do all of the above.

You might also hear the term ‘scampagnata’ used instead of ‘gita fuori porta’. 

Though the term may suggest otherwise – ‘campagna’ means countryside in Italian – ‘scampagnata’ has exactly the same meaning as ‘gita fuori porta’, thus referring to all possible sorts of day trip, not just those to the countryside.

Faremo una scampagnata ad Asolo per Ferragosto.

Ah, bello. Merita veramente una visita.

We’ll be in Asolo for Ferragosto.

Oh, nice. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.