I suspect that Gege’ Bau, who commented on one of my posts recently, may know something about the meaning of the Italian word ‘furbo’.
In case you did not know, it means crafty, clever, smart, sharp, astute and sly. Not all at the same time, mind you. You need to know the context.
Learning Italian in Italy can help you appreciate such subtleties, as can doing an Italian culture course. Reading this blog may well help too.
Furbo is a Funny Word
For example, if someone manages to get to the head of a queue before you in Italy, then they are ‘furbo’ smart, in his or her eyes, although in my eyes they are ‘furbo’ sly. If, on the other hand, I think up an imaginative solution to a problem, then I too will be regarded as being ‘furbo’, but not furbo sly, but ‘furbo’ astute/sharp.
Furbo is a funny (funny = strange/odd, in this case) word, and you need to be ‘furbo’ to understand it. It’s one of those odd positive/negative words, such as ‘clever’ in English, which sometimes means quite the opposite of intelligent, as my native English language readers will know.
Differing Concepts of Honesty
In fact this curious little word raises another interesting issue, which is the differing concepts of ‘honesty’ that exist in UK and Italian culture. Indeed, what may be considered as being plain dishonest by an Englishman/American (?), would not necessarily be considered so by the average Italian.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
In fact, one of Italy’s most famous ‘furbi’ was the late Bettino Craxi, who apparently embezzled a large sum of Italian taxpayers’ money, and then hid in Tunisia. Craxi did not believe he had done anything that wrong. In his eyes, he was only being ‘furbo’, and demonstrated this a little further by moving to a country with no extradition agreement with Italy.
Even if the words ‘honest’ and ‘dishonest’ may exist in many languages, and they do in Italian, the actual meaning of, or rather concept behind these words most probably varies from culture to culture. The trick is knowing whether or not other cultures have either a similar or different concept of honesty to your own.
However, the process of establishing the concept of honesty in the country in which you find yourself may well turn out to be somewhat painful, if you are not rather careful. Obviously, it helps if you can find some ‘honest’ inside information, but then again how can you know if the inside information is really honest?
Answer: Experience is the greatest teacher, and eventually, after you have had a few ‘hot finger’ episodes, you may understand how the land lies.
On Learning Italian
I learnt Italian in Italy – on the street, with dictionaries and teach yourself books. If you want to learn Italian in Italy too, I would recommend doing a course, in somewhere somewhere like Perugia or Bologna. Doing a course in Italy is a much quicker way to learn Italian.
You might find a good Italian English dictionary, or two, useful – I certainly have done. Amazon.com has plenty to choose from.
On Italian Culture
Italian culture courses may also be useful for those who might have to deal with Italians in the course of their work.