‘Ci penso io’

A window on language and customs in Italy

Linda Falcone
June 1, 2006

In Italy, a best friend is known as a ‘heart friend’ and my amico del cuore is called Giorgio Moro. Although this is not top secret information, I do have some qualms about using his full name in this article. Any writer will tell you that it is inadvisable to tie a character so closely to a real person but in Giorgio Moro’s case, I can’t help it. There are two reasons for this. First, as my best friend, I feel the need to differentiate him from all the other Giorgios in the world. The second reason is that we grew up together. His mother would use his first and last name whenever he was in trouble and Giorgio Moro is still in trouble often.

 

As kids we made a very complementary pair: he was always busy trying to get into mischief and I was always busy trying to stay out of it. Giorgio and I were summertime neighbors in this lifetime and have agreed to be siblings in the next one. Especially if we both end up in Italy again. Around here, it’s good to have your friends as part of the family.

 

Giorgio has amico del cuore status for several reasons. The first is that he loves life. Complete stranger to the melancholy neurosis that so often creeps under my own windowsill, he is the token Italian optimist. Stranger to worry and friend to all that is bold and unpretentious, Giorgio Moro has various preferred phrases that he uses to raise my spirits. His favorite is ‘stop drowning in a glass of water’ and my favorite is ci penso io.

 

For the untrained ear, ci penso io may sound like ‘I’ll think about it’. In reality, when Italians need time to consider an idea, they simply say ci penso. The two expressions appear to have the same literal meaning when, in reality, they are worlds apart. That final io carries all the weight and is usually accompanied by a wink of complicity. Ci penso io becomes ‘you just sit tight, I’ll worry about that.’ It is an Italian form of reassurance and should be received with some measure of relief. You have a problem, but they’re going to take care of it for you.

 

Italy is a wonderful country but it does offer its share of trivial challenges. Sometimes, when I’m not paying attention, my need for a new world order gets the better of me. In other words, I start feeling sorry for myself. Every room in the house takes a different type of plug. My flat is a breeding ground for mosquitos. The Signora who cleans the stairs earns more than I do. The actors who dub movies into Italian all have the wrong voices. Do I really want to be the only one in this country who declares all of their income? Should I order tiramisù or gelato alla fragola?

 

When Giorgio interrupts my outbursts and says ci penso io, it means he’s planning to buy me a multipurpose electrical adapter. Or he’s going to introduce me to the Vape mosquito murdering machine and find me a translation to do for a little extra cash. He’s also considering asking his accountant to fill out my tax form. Or he may just take me to a film in the original language and order me the dessert he knows I really want to eat. Ci penso io is so very good at saving the day.

 

In addition to its practical value, I find the phrase among the most telltale of Italian expressions. To me, its wording reveals one of the primary characteristics of Italian living. Thinking does not necessary lead to action but it might. Thus, ci penso io is a perfect expression for a country where so much of life is based on what ‘might happen’. In Italy, helpful intention undoubtedly exists but one cannot be certain that the Fates will cooperate. That’s why, around here, it is safest only to make implied promises. With ci penso io, you can make a promise without really making one. Should anyone accuse you later for not coming through, you’ve got your bases covered. After all, with ci penso io you only agreed to ‘think’. Possible action was insinuated but not technically promised. If your efforts fail to produce results, you have a built-in linguistic alibi.

 

All this brings me to the other main reason that Giorgio Moro is my heart-friend. He may be incorrigible and impulsive at times but he almost always keeps his promises, even the ones he only implies.

 

‘I’m writing an article about you and I’m going to use your full name’, I told him the other day. ‘With you in the story, it only took a paragraph before I broke my first rule of storytelling.’

 

‘I was born to make you break rules.’

 

‘Yes. It’s lucky for me, that deep down you are good.’

 

'Good?’ Giorgio grinned. ‘You worry about being good. About the rest, ci penso io.’

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