Wherever I go on holiday I always try to learn and use some basic keywords and phrases. As a minimum I look up things such as please, thank you, hello, good morning etc. I think it's polite and hotel/bar staff often seem to appreciate it and respond in the local fashion.

For example in Spanish speaking countries, if I say "gracias" they usually respond also in Spanish with "de nada". If I said "buenas noches" they would respond likewise.

In Italy, Sardinia specifically, at the hotel I stayed in the staff had excellent English and they only ever used English when speaking to guests even when I greeted them in Italian (I believe all the guests staying there were from the UK). I'm reasonably confident I'm saying the words correctly though it is possible I'm getting the pronunciation slightly wrong.

Is this extensive use of English common in Italian resorts/hotels and should I continue to try and use/learn Italian while staying there? My experience has been quite counter intuitive to date.

  • 2
    Related, more general question: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/24806/…
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 11:35
  • @AndrewGrimm thanks, I did try searching before asking but was including the Italy tag so didn't see that. The top answer backs up my general thoughts and experiences, which makes me more curious about my experience of Sardinia, they generally seemed happier speaking English (and I'm fairly confident the staff were mostly Italian).
    – Notts90
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 12:12

2 Answers 2


I think you should always try to use basic foreign language spoken in country XXX when visiting XXX. It shows that you are making an effort to communicate but most importantly to absorb part of the local culture. I strongly doubt anyone will get offended if you try to speak their language. My experience shows quite the opposite. If, after the salutations, your interlocutor then decides to shift to English then follow up in English. If you decide that your knowledge doesn't allow you to go further than hello and goodbye then shift the conversation language to English.

I don't know if English is common in rural areas of Sardinia or in the rest of Italy. Regardless, I would still use basic Italian when you can and English anytime else.

  • 2
    But, you need to pick the right language. There are some traps. Speaking Spanish (Castilian) in Barcelona is not always appreciated. I tried to learn some simple Catalan but I was so bad that they did not seem to realise that I was trying to speak Catalan. I settled on Castilian but opened with: "I am sorry but I don't speak Catalan, can you speak Castilian?". That worked quite well. Similarly, French in some parts of Belgium might be less welcome than English.
    – badjohn
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 9:28
  • @badjohn Not on some part. In many parts! French is not the most-spoken language in Belgium. Many Flemings do speak some French of course, but they speak English much better.
    – Neusser
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 9:53
  • @Neusser Thanks for the confirmation. I did not want to make too strong a statement based on a few personal observations. The opposite can occur. Once in Brussels, I was trying to buy a train ticket to Antwerp. The clerk spoke French so I tried that but he did not admit to knowing Antwerp or Antwerpen. I was rather puzzled that a train ticket seller in Brussels did not know another major city in his own country. Finally I remembered Anvers. "Oh you want to go to Anvers, that will be X francs".
    – badjohn
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 10:09

In short, I agree with @JoErNanO, that you should always try to use basic language spoken in a country you are visiting.

My experience from some years of living in three different Italian regions (Piedmont, Veneto, Lombardy) and different cities (Milan, Turin, Padua, Abano, ..) says, the percentage of Italians that prefer to speak in the Italian, rather than a foreign language, should be somewhere above 95%. Although, it varies tremendously from city to city. In smaller, unpopular, less international cities people tend to favor foreign languages less.

And what makes that 5 percent?

  1. People trying to improve/maintain their English (this group, most likely answers your Ciao! with a Hi! - e.g: international meetup events, university students, etc).
  2. Show-off group (e.g. your roommate invites some friends over and wants to show off his English skills in front of them; same as above, they tend to shape your attempt in making an Italian conversation to English).
  3. International/touristy environments (your example of resort could fall right into this one; probably it appears more professional to them if they make an English conversation).

According to me, outside these groups anyone will welcome your effort in making an Italian conversation, at least as long as they don't feel you are suffering in grasping the topic.

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