‘I’m not Onassis’: Seven things Italian dads say and what they mean

As world-famous promoters of tough love, Italian dads have a repertoire of phrases ready for 'creatively' scolding their children. Here are just a few of of their favourite lines.

Father and son playing in the snow
Italian dads are renowned for their verbal creativity when scolding their children. Photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

From doors being carelessly left open to requests for unreasonably expensive items, there are countless things that are guaranteed to upset an Italian dad.   

And whatever the misdeed, they’ll have a snarky remark suited for the occasion. 

Here are just seven of the favourite set phrases you’re likely to hear an Italian dad come out with.

Ma ti sembro Onassis?

Usually uttered after a request to buy something indecently pricey, “Do I look like Onassis to you?” is one of the best comebacks in the Italian dad’s repertoire. 

Onassis was a Greek shipping magnate who established himself as one of the richest men on the planet in the 20th century. 

READ ALSO: Ten phrases to talk about cold and wet weather like a true Italian

We might never get to know where exactly Italian fathers’ obsession with the Greek tycoon stems from, but we are sure that countless generations of young Italians will continue to be reminded that their father isn’t nearly as opulent as Onassis. 

Countless alternative versions of this expression exist, including non sono la Banca d’Italia (“I’m not the Bank of Italy”) or those referring to Italy’s very own cavaliere, Silvio Berlusconi, such as: “non sei la figlia di Berlusconi” (“You’re not Berlusconi’s daughter”)

Io non vado a rubare!

Roughly translatable into English as “I don’t steal for a living!”, this is another parenting staple for requests involving the purchase of expensive items. 

The phrase is generally uttered with sheer indignation and accompanied by various expressions of outrage. 

Financial prudence is top of Italian dads’ priorities. Mess with that at your peril. 

Come ti ho fatto, ti distruggo.

The “I’ll destroy you just as easily as I made you” ultimatum is not used lightly but, whenever the circumstances call for it, the real Italian father will not hesitate to pull out this verbal ace.

Generally triggered by grave displays of disrespect or (very) bad behaviour, the expression is nothing short of a psychological warfare masterpiece.

READ ALSO: These are Italy’s most popular baby names

A family of four posing for a photo.

Italian dads are world-famous promoters of tough love but most also have a soft side to them. Photo by Jean-Pierre CLATOT / AFP

Questa casa non e’ un albergo.

Here’s one for the rogue adolescents having a hard time abiding by the sacred rules of the house, especially those turning up late for meals or getting home late at night. 

Italian fathers don’t like to beat around the bush, so any breach of the law of the land is met with a stark reality check: “This house is not a hotel”. 

The phrase might sometimes be followed by “You cannot come and go as you please” (Non puoi andare e tornare come ti pare e piace) but the first part is usually sufficient to get the message across.

Hai la coda?

Very few things upset Italian dads as much as an open door does. 

It doesn’t really matter what type of door – whether that be the front door, a bedroom door or even a car door – as long as it’s one that their unfailing judgement commands should be shut at all times.

READ ALSO: Puns and plot spoilers: How English movie titles are translated into Italian

As a result, any Italian boy or girl forgetting to close a door behind them should expect to be asked whether they have a tail (coda).

It nearly goes without saying, having a coda would theoretically explain why the guilty party didn’t close the door in question.

Perche’ no. 

If you’ve had the luck (or misfortune – you decide) to be raised by an Italian father, you’ll know this one all too well. 

When mercilessly turning down yet another one of his children’s requests, the quintessential Italian dad doesn’t remotely bother coming up with a plausible reason for doing so. 

It’s not happening “because I said no”. That’ll be all.

Ma da chi hai preso?

It’s only right for us to wrap up with Italian dads’ darkest moment of doubt. That’s when the actions of their children make them question whether they actually are the fathers of the misbehaving brats after all.

The phrase in question, which is roughly translatable into English as “Who did you get this from?”, is usually said with a mixture of dismay and bewilderment. 

The Italian father cannot fathom where his offspring’s disposition to reprehensible behaviour comes from but refuses to accept that his genes might be responsible. 

Several hours of silent introspection generally follow the utterance of this phrase.

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La Bella Vita: Tipping rules, Italian habits and the most useful verb tenses

From the habits people pick up after moving to Italy to the Italian grammar you really need, weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Tipping rules, Italian habits and the most useful verb tenses

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

Italian grammar can be a lot to get to grips with, particularly the number of verb tenses: Italian has a total of 21 tenses, divided into two forms, plus a total of seven moods, also split into two categories.

This can be a bit much if you’re still perfecting your coffee order.

All of these tenses are still used in Italy (while in English, some of our 12 tenses are rarely used). But how many of these forms do you really need to know, at least at first? How many will you actually use in everyday life?

While your Italian language teacher will no doubt say “all of them” – piano piano, you’ll get there eventually – some tenses are going to come in far more immediately useful than others.

So if you want to start speaking Italian right away, we’ve narrowed the list down to the five most useful tenses that you can’t get by without.

Which Italian verb tenses are the most useful?

Moving to any new country is guaranteed to bring changes to your lifestyle. But what are the most common new habits people pick up after moving to Italy?

As well as healthier eating, finding more time to relax, and getting more fresh air and exercise, readers admitted that after adapting to the Italian lifestyle they now find themselves “eating an entire pizza guilt-free” and “not taking traffic lights too literally”. Here’s what else you told us:

Eating well, driving badly, and daily naps: The habits you pick up in Italy

Speaking of stereotypically Italian habits, you’ve no doubt heard all about the reputation Italians have for being habitually late. But is this always true? How late are we talking? And what should you do when an Italian friend leaves you hanging?

We looked at why, when and how you’ll probably need to switch to ‘Italian time’ yourself if you want to keep your cool.

EXPLAINED: How late is it usual to be in Italy?

Tipping etiquette in Italy: what are the rules?

Tipping etiquette in Italy: what are the rules? Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP

And there’s a lot of confusion and contradictory advice out there about tipping in Italy, whether at a restaurant or in a taxi. Of course, you can tip whatever you like and it will always be appreciated – but what is actually expected? Ten percent? Twenty? Nothing at all? 

We’ve got a quick overview of what you need to know about Italian tipping etiquette.

What are the rules on tipping in Italy?

Finally, if you’re not in Italy right now or can’t visit as often as you’d like to, reading books that transport you here might be the next best thing.

Here’s an article from the archives with some inspiration for lovers of literature, travel and history, featuring five of the best old Italian travel books – from classics that are still easily found to rarer volumes worth hunting down.

Travelling back in time: Five of the best old Italian travel books

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]