Do you know the name of this mountain? (and why you should know local names)

Matterhorn, Italy

Photo by Björn S… via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Is it:

a) Matterhorn

b) Mont Cervin

c) Monte Cervino

d) all of the above

 

The answer is D. Asking Italians about The Matterhorn – a Swiss mountain also visible from Italy and France – will produce blank stares. I speak from experience. But ask about Il Cervino and you’ll be met with enthusiasm about its beauty. (To further confuse things, many people refer to it as Zermatt, which is actually the name of the town at the base of the mountain.)

 

Some place names are easy to figure out: you can infer that Roma is Rome, Napoli is Naples, and Milano is Milan. But many travelers are surprised to discover that there is no Florence or Venice in Italy. You’re getting off the train or exiting the highway at Firenze or Venezia, respectively. And some translations of place names are downright puzzling. I almost missed a flight once from Milan to Munich, Germany, because I didn’t know that in Italian, the word for Munich is Monaco.

 

Assume it’s lost in translation, not ignorance

 

As a exchange student at an Italian high school, I was surprised that the Canadian school curriculum had completely neglected to teach me about a famous and significant ruler in the Middle Ages, Carlo Magno. I was wowed by his achievements, and my Italian classmates couldn’t believe I had never heard of him. Pretty soon, the details started ringing a bell and I realized: it was Charlemagne! Giovanni Caboto was the explorer John Cabot! Yet for some reason I had learned about Marco Polo, and not Mark Pole. 

 

So whether or not you’ve learned the various ways of saying “hello” in Italian or perfected the rolling r’s in arrivederci, make time before your trip to review the Italian names of the cities you’re visiting. And once in Italy, while getting to know the locals remember that there are lots of Carlo Magnos out there. The Italians may have never heard of Charlemagne, but they may know more about Carlo Magno than you do. 

 

Photo by Dylan Marriott

 

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