Calabresi proverbs

Wisdom on a Sugar Packet: Calabrian Proverbs

I recently came across a handful of photos I had snapped a couple of years earlier in a bar in Bova Marina. At what I had anticipated to be a routine roadside coffee stop in a locale at the very tip of the Italian boot, I stumbled upon entertaining sugar packets stamped with traditional Calabrian proverbs. There’s nothing like a people’s collective wisdom expressed in succinct colorful sayings. 


The proverbi calabresi on the sugar packets were written in ‘u dialettu ‘i rriggiu (il dialetto di Reggio – Reggio dialect) and in Italian. Keep in mind, these are just a handful of the area’s many sayings that join together with those from others in the region to make up a vast body of Calabian proverbs.

The short, pithy expressions reflect the history and traditions of past generations, and today, also serve to bond the province’s inhabitants.

Proverbi Calabresi - Calabrian Proverbs

Proverbi Calabresi – Calabrian Proverbs


Non ccattari ‘a jatta nto saccu.

Non comprare la gatta nel sacco.

Don’t buy a cat in a sack, or as often expressed in English, a pig in a poke.

Debiti e cai, non si sananu mai.

Debiti e piaghe, non si sanano mai.

Debts and blights aren’t ever made right.

Senza dinari non si cantanu (rinnu) messe.

Senza dinaro non si cantano (recitano) messe.

Without money, the priest doesn’t sing Masses. In other words, you can’t do anything without money.

Reggio Calabria Cathedral

Reggio Calabria Cathedral

I sordi fannu vinniri ‘a vista puru a’ ll’orbi.

I denari rendono la vista anche ai ciechi.

Money allows even the blind to see, or money has an incredible power.

calabrese saying

Proverbio Calabrese – Calabrian Proverb

O’ caru ccattacci, ‘o mercatu pensai.

Acquista quel che costa di piu’, e stai sicuro che avrei risparmiato.

Buy that which costs more, and for sure you will have saved.


Pista l’acqua, ‘nto murtaru.

Pesta l’acqua nel mortaio.

Pestle (or crush) water in a mortar. This expression indicates something is useless.

Calabrese ceramics

Mortar and Pestle with other pottery in the Ethnographic Museum in Gallicianò, Calabria

Aiuta l’aiutatu, c’ ‘u poviru e’ ‘imparatu.

Aiuta chi non ha bisogno, perche’ il povero e’ abituato a soffrire.

Help those who don’t have need (or the rich) because the poor are used to suffering. The impoverished already know how to take care of themselves, having learned from experience.

Si vo’ perderi l’amico, o ‘u mariti o ‘u fai zzitu.

Se vuoi perdere l’amico, o lo sposi o lo fidanzi.

If you want to lose a friend, find him a wife or girlfriend. This is often said to a friend you haven’t seen for a long time.

Calabresi proverbi

Sugar packet with Calabrese proverb

Si ficiru comu i santi ‘i rriggiu.

Si sono ridotti come i santi di Reggio.

We’ve been reduced to such a state, like the saints in Reggio. This refers to the historical vandalism committed by Ottoman Turks and Barbary pirates, who defaced religious paintings and chopped the heads off of and otherwise damaged sculptures in Reggio. (See Museo San Paolo at the Palazzo della Cultura for a detailed example.)

Cu’ si iaza pi’ primu cumanda.

Chi si alza (si sveglia) per primo comanda.

Whoever gets up first, gives orders. This is said sarcastically, such as: Who died and made you boss?

cafe' in Calabria

A cup of Italian coffee for 70 cents – the price has since gone up to 80.

Com’esti u cafè? È bbonu?

Com’è il cafè? È buono?

How’s the coffee? Is it good?

What is your favorite of the above Calabrian proverbs or do you have other sayings near and dear? Share in the comments below.

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Comments 4

  1. I’ve seen the “words of wisdom” sugar packets in different places too and they are always fun to read. They are like the Italian version of the fortune cookie. When we come across the sugar packets with the sayings, my friends and I always pick one without looking. It’s quite fun!

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