You say goodbye and I say hello…

La parola del giorno: “Ciao”~

“Ciao,” I said, walking in the front door as Richard was walking out.

“Ciao, ciao, ciao…” and he was down the sidewalk, into the car, and off to the lake for a photo shoot.

I had arrived back at the house in Alabama just in time to catch Richard leaving town for work for three days. ( Sometimes, life is too busy for our own good.  Luckily, we are leaving for Italy in a couple of days, so we will be in the same place for those two weeks, at least.

“Ciao” is the Italian word for both “hello” and “good-bye.” In English, this famous Italian expression is pronounced “chow,” which is similar to, but not exactly, how the Italians pronounce the word. To appreciate how the Italian language requires you to pronounce every letter in a word—except for “h,” which is silent—let’s deconstruct it slowly in your first Italian lesson:

“Ci” is pronounced “chee.” In Italian, the letter “i” has the English long “e” sound, as in the word “key.” Also, the letter “c” when followed by an “i” has the “ch” sound, as in “church.” Put the two together and you get “chee.”

The letter “a” in Italian is pronounced “ah”—as in the sound you make as you lower yourself into a warm bubble-bath, after a long, hard day at work, and release the day’s tension by saying, “ahhhhhhh.”

The Italian “o” has a hard to describe sound. It is very similar to the English “o,” but not quite. The only image that comes to mind is the short, grunted, rounded “oh” sound a gorilla makes when trying to ward off intruders. How do I know this sound? Too many years of Sunday nights spent on the floor watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” ( in anticipation of Tinkerbell coming on the screen and tossing her fairy dust around. ( ) I am sure that explains a lot. To keep it simple, let’s just say it is the same as our letter “o.”

Slowly put those all together and you get: “chee-ah-o.” When spoken at speed, the sounds slide together and merge into what we Americans hear as “chow,” but in Italy there is a slight lingering on the “i” sound…like a subtle little pinch of salt that perks up a dish’s flavor.

My mom went with me on my first trip to Italy in September 2001—yes, we were in Florence on 9/11, but that is a different story. Before we left, my mom was nervous about traveling to a country where English was not the first language. I told her she only needed to learn how to say two things: “Thank you” and “Hello,” which gave her a third bonus saying—“good-bye.” She learned them and there were many occasions when she used her three sayings with great pride. She always smiled slyly when saying them, as if she was secretly fooling the Italians into thinking that she was a native. I got a big kick out of that.

I called her last night to let her know that I was safely back in Alabama and while the phone was ringing I thought I’d have a little fun with a game we sometimes play on the phone, since Rome is in my immediate future. She answered the phone and I started in—

“Ciao, mama. Come stai?”     

“Ciao, baby.”

Whenever I say “Ciao, mamma. Come stai?” (“Hi, mom. How are you?”) Her reply is always “Ciao, baby.”—sounding like the lollipop-sucking Kojak with his famous line of “Who loves ya, baby?” (

“Ciao, baby” always makes me laugh, because the only time she ever calls me “baby” is when she uses it with “ciao.” Also, it is only when we play this game on the phone, never in person, that she gets all Kojak on me. Why she does this, I have no idea, but I roar with laughter every time she says it. Tonight was no different.

It is nice to be home, even if Richard had to go out of town for three days. At least he gave the house a little Halloween atmosphere (the photo is from the outside of our front door looking in through the side-light) by decorating it for my arrival. The whole house is “spook-tacular!” We land in Rome on the 31st, so I’ll be interested to see how the Italians celebrate Halloween, if at all.