“Ciao” can flow like water at the end of a phone call.
Years ago, I was on a northbound train in Italy, sitting close to a man talking on his cell phone. I swear I heard him utter “Ciao” at least two dozen times over the span of two-to-three minutes before he actually ended the call. I thought to myself “Is this for real?” At the time, I was mostly irritated that the man with speaking so loudly. I just wanted him to end the call and shut up so I could have some peace. But, this was the beginning of my understanding and appreciation of why and how Italians differ from Americans when ending a phone call. I now lovingly call it “The Long Goodbye.”
An underlying logic exists in this prolific use of “Ciao.”
First, let’s be clear that we’re talking about phone calls between friends, and the use of “Ciao” being used with familiarity. If it were a phone conversation between strangers or people who barely know each other, “Salve” and “Arrivederci” (the formal goodbyes) would be used.
Now, let me attempt to explain the ciao logic as explained to me by more than one Italian. During a phone call between friends and/or family, “Ciao” becomes the signal that the conversation is entering its last lap and is about to wrap up. Uttering one “Ciao” and hanging up is usually considered abrupt and rude––like you’re cutting the other person short. The first “Ciao” allows the other person to add any last nuggets to the conversation. It can be followed by another “Ciao” and another, and can be interspersed with additional conversation before returning to a final series of “Ciao.”
The liberal use of “Ciao” calls to attention the cultural differences between Italian and Americans
As a general rule, most Americans are used to concise goodbyes. I often see my fellow Americans rolling their eyes and checking their watches when overhearing a phone call between Italians, or when impatiently waiting for an in-person parting to just “get one with it.” Yes, “The Long Goodbye” extends to in-person encounters.
My advice? If you move here, get used to it. Get into the flow and embrace the logic of these lengthy goodbyes. Italians are warm, passionate people and they’re not prone to cutting things short and rushing off to something else. This is also why meals are lengthy. Meals are another opportunity to commune with loved ones and new acquaintances and you rarely see Italians finishing up and offering hasty goodbyes.
In closing, I confess that this has been a real adjustment for me. I’m used to being more economic about my goodbyes. This cultural shift has been good for me. It is teaching me that ending a conversation isn’t just about my feeling “done” and my being ready to move on to something else. “The Long Goodbye” is helping me to slow down and to check in with the other person to see if they’ve said all they’ve needed to say.
How civilized and how respectful!
If you liked this post be sure to read my post with general guidelines about Italian greetings and goodbyes.