Tag Archives: Italy

Italian & French in Aosta Valley, Italy

For those who love both Italian and French, I recommend a trip to the Aosta Valley of Italy. It is an autonomous region in the northwestern corner of Italy, bordering France and Switzerland. Both Italian and French are official languages, though the majority of the inhabitants speak Italian as a first language. Valdôtain, a dialect of Franco-Provençal, and a dialect of Walser German are also spoken in certain areas.  In main tourist towns, such as Courmayeur and Aosta, French and English are widely spoken as well as some German.

I went to Courmayeur this past weekend because I had never been to Val d’Aosta even though it is quite close to where I live. Courmayeur is located on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, opposite Chamonix on the French side. The easiest way to get there from France is to drive through the tunnel under Mont Blanc. It’s about 11 km / 7 miles long and costs 45.90€ for the roundtrip toll. The only other options would be to take a SAVDA bus from Chambéry/Annecy, or a train to Chamonix, then switch to a bus there. It is also possible to take a train from Chambéry to Turin and head north towards Aosta, but it is much longer and the train actually stops in Pré-Saint-Didier so you will still need to take a bus to Courmayeur.

Surrounded by huge mountains

The weather is actually colder in this part of the Alps and there is plenty of snow in winter for skiing – yet there is plenty of sunshine and hiking opportunities in summer.  Courmayeur is touristy like Chamonix, but it also felt smaller and even a bit cheaper (at least for meals.) The food was similar to what you find in the French Alps: fromage (cheese) and charcuterie (meats). Their fonduta/fondue is made with fontina cheese and accompanies polenta and gnocchi. Mocetta, dried beef, is also common, and tegole, cookies shaped in the form of Alpine roof tiles, are a typical dessert.  The architecture is also similar with lots of beautiful wood chalets.

Snow above my waist

Besides skiing and hiking, the region is known for its thermal baths and spas. I hope to return for longer than a weekend next time so I can take advantage of them, such as the Terme di Pré Saint Didier.  Even if you can’t make it to the Aosta Valley, you can still go on a virtual roadtrip and check out the beautiful scenery thanks to Google Street View.

Can you spot the télécabine going up the mountain?

I’ve uploaded the rest of my Courmayeur photos to the Gallery and Flickr.

Regional Differences in France & Italy: Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis & Benvenuti al Sud

In 2008 when Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis was released in France, it was an instant success. The plot focuses on the manager of La Poste in Salon-de-Provence, who is transferred to Bergues in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and all the negative stereotypes about the north of France, i.e. it’s always rainy and cold, the people are poor, ignorant and backwards, they speak a strange dialect of French called ch’ti, etc. This film is now the most successful French movie ever and Italy has just released their remake of the film, with one major difference – the main character lives near Milan and is transferred to the south, to a small town near Naples. Essentially the same negative stereotypes exist for people in the south of Italy as for the north of France, including the strange dialect that the main character has trouble understanding (Napoletano).

These movies are great for language enthusiasts to learn about accents, dialects and cultural differences within the same country. The French language or French culture doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere in France because it just depends on where you are in the country, which is true of every country and every language. I speak American English but I certainly don’t sound like someone from Alabama. Even if we all speak the same language, we really don’t. But in the end these comedies are about tolerance and discovering that people are people, regardless of differences in location or culture or language.

Another interesting aspect is the translations into English of the original French film. (I haven’t found English translations for the Italian film yet.) Obviously the translations cannot be exact when dealing with puns or words that sound similar in French but do not in English. Usually the English translation just add sh- to the beginning of words. However, the scene about the misunderstanding of siens and chiens (his and dogs) becomes fish and office in English. Here are the trailers of the two films in their original language, with English subtitles for the French film:

Allociné has the Benvenuti al Sud trailer with subtitles in French if you want to compare the two languages. Several clips are also available on Youtube, including Dany Boon’s cameo.

The American remake will supposedly involve both Will Smith and Steve Carell. The plot will essentially be the same, with a southerner being transferred to the north (North Dakota) instead of near the sunny coast (Hawaii).

Benvenuti al Sud will be released in France on November 24 (hopefully sub-titled and not dubbed!)