How to survive Italian Storytelling

Italians are great storytellers.

Especially in the south where everyone seems like a famous 1960s Hollywood actor with all the long, drawn out monologues and hand flare (JAZZ HANDS!) Well, there are no jazz hands… yet…but they do have quite an extensive repertoire of hand gestures that can speak for themselves once you know what they mean.


And just like Hollywood stars, they want to keep you captivated.

Your job is to be the perfect audience and give your full, undivided attention. Eye contact is a must. Deep, mesmerizing eye contact. They have to see into your soul while telling their stories, for some reason. This can be a bit unnerving for most Americans accustomed to a more laid back, chitchat style, where one could easily get away with “listening” while filing their nails or checking their Facebook page.

Although the stories are quite fascinating, after about 15 minutes (2.5 minutes, if you are menstruating), you start to slip in your role as spectator and lose focus because your eyes are burning from the soul invasion and your brain is pulsating from all the translating. As a result, the Italian performer beefs up his act. FULL STEAM AHEAD! Now he’s at full speed and the words are flowing out at a speed that is surely bound to send your brain into overload and a possible, temporary shutdown.

So you’re sitting there close to a mental breakdown (SMILE WITH YOUR EYES) and you are trying your best not to be rude but the story is NEVERENDING. Mr. Razzle-Dazzle is going for an Oscar and will use any strategy to continue his gig, even flat out, lie! But what’s more important? His Oscar or your sanity?

HIS OSCAR! Of course!

Well, here I have identified some of the Performer Strategies and wrote down a few techniques that have helped me survive moments like this. I hope these tips can help you too.

Tip 1 – Split Your Brain

Not literally, but divide the duties of translation and interpretation into two different segments in your head. I have given my two segments, names and personalities. (A direct response after an overload –Two Italian men telling the same story, well, somewhat similar versions, oh! and in a Salentino DIALECT, where everything sounds like, “whatchu whatchu way”. And both were charging forward to win the Best Male Actor of the Century Award, it seemed…no supportive roles here!). Anyway, one is Sally. She’s from New York. She’s a mix between Rosie Perez and Fran Drescher. Sally is in charge of translating. Then, the other one is Greg. He’s a sly fox that notices everything from voice fluctuations, changes in facial expressions/moods, body language. He’s gay. (A man working in a woman’s head…duh!) and Greg is in charge of interpretation.

In general, Sally and Greg get along and work well together. But sometimes, there’s chaos and confusion. Then I’ll hear Greg chiming in…

“ Giiiirrrllll… Sally just sent me this translation…if you wanna call it that. It says… and I quote,

Dog….you know…went to Mom’s house…meatballs…(some other item, a vegetable or type of mushroom? Possibly, an herb) …dog…dog poo… (long list of things that smell like poo)… something about some guy named Antonio, not the one at the (unknown location), but the one at the (something that sounds like Cheerio)…

Cheerio? Deerio….Eerio…Feerio…oh, She is not going to work my nerves today!

Tip 2 – Turn on “Fluff” Filter

As part of their storytelling, Italians will spend lots of time and effort describing the main characters and scenery of their story. They want you to relive the moment…breathe it…FEEL IT! The details of one of their main characters might include, physical attributes, personality traits, family history, former and current residence/employment/lovers, food preferences, etc. etc.

These informative details, I like to call, “Fluff”, are great for storytelling purposes or if you work for the CIA but it is mostly useless information, so filter most of it out. Although, I like to take special note of birthdays and past lovers

“Wait! A Scorpio slept with a Pisces while he was dating a Virgo? OMG!”

Greg is dancing in the background. “I knew it! I KNEW it!”

Well, Fluff Filters can be personalized to meet one’s personal needs, but trust me, if you are moving to a small town in Italy, records of past lovers will come in handy. The important thing is, to turn your filter on from time to time so Sally can take a much needed potty break.

Tip 3 – Zone Out in Stealth Mode. (Stealth Out)

You are halfway through Act I, and Sally is still not back from her break… Greg is in hysterics,

“Where in da hell is Sally? I bet she’s sitting in a bar somewhere, milking a Cosmo, while I’m in here slaaaavin’! I am not even getting a visual anymore…Are your eyes even open?”

Don’t panic. This is the time to “zone out”. Send Greg on a break too.

“ Greg, you have 5 minutes….8 minutes top!”

Now, when I say “zone out”, I don’t mean slip into a vegetative state. Glossy eyes and drool sliding out the sides of your mouth are dead giveaways that you are not paying attention. Your performer will notice, so Stealth Out by setting up auto responses for various Performer Strategies.

The Hand or Leg Tap

Italians will often touch your hand or leg if they think they are losing you.

AUTO-RESPONSE – Widen eyes and nod slowly

This act sends the message, “You are not alone. I am here with you. Though you’re far…” A little MJ always does the trick.

The Question

Your performer may intermittently ask you a question. Don’t know the answer? Not even sure, you understood the question? It’s okay… Relax…No need to start wracking your brain for a clever answer. Chances are, it was a rhetorical question anyway. Plus there is a big chance that he is not gonna let you answer, so you can just pretend to start an answer and wait for him to stop you at the third word…

AUTO-RESPONSE – Just say. “Buu”.

Buu is an easy, monosyllabic response that can mean, “I don’t know” ,“I’m not sure” or even, “I could care a rat’s arse”(if you carry out the u-sound for too long). So keep your Buu’s short and concise…and high-pitched! A low pitched-Buu can sound like you are booing your star off the stage.

A Loud Noise

A shout, a handclap or hand slap to the table from your storyteller should be expected. Be prepared so you don’t jump out of your pants. It’s just for dramatic effect.

AUTO-RESPONSE- Bring your hand up in front of your mouth

This movement reads as, “HARK!!!” You are in Italy, so you can be dramatic too.

Increase in Pause Frequency

Your performer starts to make frequent pauses. It’s not because he’s tired of talking. He is just pausing to permit more responses from you. More audience participation, please.

AUTO-RESPONSE – See how many different ways you can say “mmmhmm”


Avoid “ohmmmm”. Might send you into meditation and you’ll be lost in la-la land. FOR ALL OF ETERNITY.

The Lie or False Ending

Your Italian is close to his grand finale, at least you hope so. He’ s catching on to your little “mmmhmm“ game. He knows…but he’s not going to give up. Would Pier Paolo Pasolini give up? Never. (They had to murder him.) He has to finish up his show and he has to go out with a BANG so what does he say? A lie! He will make up a whole new ending, if need be. He will say something completely off the wall that will send you hurdling out in left field, like…

“E poi… saltó dal tetto!”


“Sally, did he just say, ‘and then, he jumped from the roof”?

“Yeaaahhh…sort of…he used the third person singular…so it could translate as, ”and then, he/she/it jumped from the roof.”

“Ohhhh noooo…..what is he talking about? Who jumped off the roof? Greg….?”

“Don’t…ask…me…ANYTHING! I am ti’ed. You hear me? I am so ti’ed, I can’t even pronounce the ‘r’. You want an interpretation? Interpret this!”

He walks out and everyone loses it. The eyes are blaming the ears. The ears are blaming the eyes. Sally is in the corner, crying because she thinks Greg is mad at HER. And Curiosity is screaming at the top of his lungs,


Just before all hell breaks loose, your star will take centre-stage and with a silly smirk on his face, proclaim…

“Noo…sto scherzando…ti sto prendendo in giro!”

It always takes me a moment.

You’re joking? What? I’m about to have a nervous breakdown and you think this is the moment to “pull my leg”? Well, Hardy HAR HAR! Mr. Funny Guy!

Please don’t do this… Don’t fall for this trick! I fall for it every time, but my middle name is Gullible. YOU! You, however, you can be saved. You have the Tips to guide you, for crying out loud! If it sounds unbelievable, don’t believe it. Again…

AUTO-RESPONSE – Cough “bugia” or “bullshit”italian-gesture-select-italy


If all else fails, I have one FINAL tip that I discovered by accident.

Tip 4 – Spill Your Wine

Not a full glass. In Italy, all you need to spill is a couple of drops to invoke the fear of The Sin of Wasted Wine! Italians are very superstitious, so he will have no choice but to immediately drop his story, jump up and dab his fingers in the wine stains and behind his ears. I haven’t fully understood this ritual. My guess is… the evil, Wasted Wine Spirit checks first behind the ears before knocking off the sinful, Wine Waster because…BECAUSE……..buu!

Doesn’t matter. It’s fail-proof. Just spill the wine!

Who’s got the last laugh now, Mr. Funny Guy?



Zone Out


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