One of the things I love most about learning and speaking Italian is stumbling across a phrase or expression utilizing a metaphor that perfectly captures the sentiment a person wishes to convey. “Che bordello!” is an Italian expression that rises to the top of my list of favorites.
“Che bordello!” translates literally into “What a brothel/whorehouse!” but also means “What a mess!”
As you can see, this expression doesn’t work in the English translation. If you said “What a brothel!” in the U.S. people would look at you like you’d lost your mind. Surely you’d offend someone. You might even get slapped.
“E un bordello,” or “It’s a mess,” is a more toned down commentary of a situation that is a bit out of hand.
I had heard the word “bordello” being frequently used, and finally I had the courage to ask someone why he kept talking about a brothel. The explanation came with a smile. As I soon learned, this Italian expression is considered to be one of the best for communicating confusion or a mess of a situation. I hadn’t thought of a brothel as inherently unorganized, but I guess you could say that there’s a lot of different activity going on simultaneously in a whorehouse. And, that prompts me to laugh.
This expression comes in quite handy, and I’m putting it to good use. And, when I do, Italians nod in agreement.
To headline this post, I searched for an image that might visually represent this phrase. And, the one above, during the high waters in Venice, won the contest, hands down. Believe me “Che bordello!” is used frequently when the sirens go off in Venice indicating high waters. We have a very good friend who owns two shops in Venice, and when the high waters come, she must rush to her stores to move all of her merchandise off the floors to a level of safety. Shop owners also have dams for their doors to minimize the water, though often the water seeps in from below.
And, of course, there is the matter of getting around Venice during high waters. Even in February, when this photo was taken, Venice is full of tourists and their suitcases. What a messy situation!
Oh, the applications can be plentiful, and I look forward to using “Che bordello!” with great frequency!