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By Claudia Quesito

Learning a language is a process. There’s no real ending point and it’s a nonlinear experience. Sometimes you feel you’re getting the hang of it, next time it seems too hard to compose even the most basic sentence. Never be discouraged should be your motto.

Always focus on what you do understand, rather than on what you don’t, and don’t be afraid of giving it a try. There are situations, however, in which it might be particularly hard to keep cool and think calmly: over the phone, for instance, with no body language to help, or in a loud environment, like a restaurant.

Here’s a Restaurant 101 Guide for your convenience. Upon entering, you normally announce Siamo in [number of people], and you might be asked: Avete prenotato? Once seated, when ready to order, you simply say Scusi? to catch your waitperson’s attention, and then proceed with Vorremmo ordinare.

Per me (list of dishes), per lui/lei (list of dishes) and finally e da bere (list of drinks). Meals in Italy are served in a strict order: antipasto, primo, secondo with contorno, dolce, caffè.

You can ask to be served your dishes all together, but expect a puzzled look, especially if you are in a non-touristy, old-style place. Unless specified (per/minimo [number of people] persone), sharing courses is not common. You might be asked if you need an extra spoon (Porto un altro cucchiaino?) for the dessert, but you don’t normally share a regular dish. Bread is found at the table, but you can ask for more (Possiamo avere dell’altro pane?).

Don’t expect to find it together with an olive-oil-dip, or garlic, however. If you want that combination, check if there’s bruschetta on the menu. When you are ready to pay, ask Possiamo avere il conto? You’ll find around 2 Euros per person of coperto (cover charge), and la mancia (tip) is not common, unless you’re dining in an extremely fancy restaurant. Paghiamo qui o alla cassa? you might need to inquire, as some places expect you to go to the counter and pay there.

And finally, you can ask Possiamo dividere il conto per [number of people]? to split the check equally. You’re all set. In fact, you don’t even need to go to Italy: try out one of these sentences in an authentic Italian place in your own town!

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