Conventional wisdom says travelers should learn a few basic words in the native language for convenience and to show respect. I think this is true, so here are some Italian terms we found useful:
First, I found many Italians spoke English as soon as I tried my Italian. My theory was that they were proud that they knew English. Sue disagreed; she thought they wanted to avoid hearing any further assault on their beloved tongue.
Unmini (men's room): Sue learned this on our last day, after-the-fact.
Per favore (please), grazie (thank you).
Buon giorno (good morning, good day), buona sera (good evening). I had trouble here because I could not figure out when sera began. I once said something like buon giorno and was greeted with (I hope!) buona sera at 3 p.m.
Arrivederci (goodbye), ciao (hello or so long, familiar)
Stazione (train station). Centrale (central). In big cities that have several stations, such as Florence, it helps to know which station is best for you. Stazione Centrale put us in the right place most of the time, but not in Florence.
Parli Inglese? (Do you speak English?)
Prego (Our book says it means “you are welcome,” but it is used for more basics. Servers used it to tell us they were ready to take our order, for example.)
No need to know: Sono Americano (I am American.) They know that before you speak, whether you are in London, Beijing, or Rome.
Mi scuse (excuse me)
Si and no.
We didn't know many of these, but it would help to know some food words. Kinds of meat, sauces, vegetables, milk, juice, salad, etc. Or have them in your phone or on a cheat sheet. Many menus have English, but stores usually do not. Some menu items are not traditional American fare. Or, be adventurous! A few times, I wasn't sure, but it all tasted good.
Dov'e il bagno? (Where is the bathroom?) In cities, carry some change for public restrooms. Prices usually range from 50 cents to one euro.
You can see this is a very short list. We got by with these and often did not need to know them. We welcome your suggestions.
We try to remember to be ready to laugh at ourselves. Sometimes sense of humor is the most difficult thing to pack everywhere. We often tell each other that we will never see these people again, so it is alright to make mistakes. This did not work so well in Scotland because we have great friends there who remember our miscues, and they still get a good laugh at our expense! Don't worry, I won't mention any names, Trish!