Lost in Translation: Adventures in Sola-tude

A single chairSolo/sola in Italian means both alone and lonely.

Let that sink in for a second.

In Italian, alone and lonely are, essentially, one in the same.

Yes, there is a slight difference in that one “feels” lonely but is “alone,” but this oddity of the language (to my American ears) has always intrigued me, particularly as the interplay of the two concepts has come up repeatedly during my time in rural southern Italy.

You see, I’ve never needed to take any online or magazine quiz to determine whether I’m an extrovert or an introvert. I am, indeed, a classic introvert. Although I perform decently in social situations (I think so, at least), I absolutely need time to decompress after being “on” for any length of time. I could literally spend days, weeks not speaking with anyone and be perfectly happy.

For me, alone is not lonely . . . it’s lovely!

Late nights snuggled up in front of a fire, long walks into the mountains, never-ending days of coffee and good books . . . aaaaaah . . . the stuff of fantasies!

In fact, I spent long stretches doing just those things when I first moved here nearly twelve years ago. It was easy to do. I didn’t speak very much of the language, and approximately two people around me spoke English.

And when I was out and about, conversations were limited to the weather, the hundredth recounting of where I was from, what I had studied in school. You know, exactly the kind of small talk that introverts love so dang much.

And oh, the recurrent question of whether I felt “sola.”

It was a logical question from the mostly elderly Italians around me, who seem to do just about everything in groups, or at least in pairs. This buddy system makes sense when I think about it. In this hilltop medieval village, my neighbors have lived here most if not their whole lives and have many relatives and friends literally within walking distance.

So if your mom or best friend or adult daughter or second cousin twice removed is willing to buddy you to the gynecologist or to the post office? Why the heck not?

Italy Blogging RoundtableI think I confused many a well-meaning adopted nonna by insisting I really wasn’t lonely though I was alone, even in the early days, as I could always count on a good book or my own writing to keep me company (Internet in the house was still a few years off at that point). I had an extremely difficult time communicating this to the older women here, and not just because of the language barrier. I think they just felt sorry for me for a long time, poverina all alone in that house . . . what does she DO all day?! Poor thing!

On the bright side, I’m pretty sure this translated into a lot of little gifts of food and such left at my door. Lonely wasn’t so bad after all.

Their concern for my loneliness, by the way, extended to my mother in the United States. Surely without her daughter around, she must be lonely! I would assure them I also have a brother and he had two small children at the time. That seemed to ease their concerns for my mom. Mostly. But not entirely.

Povera mamma, they’d say. Poor mom!

Meanwhile Mom was still working full-time, carting around the grandkids, making and selling cookies and candy at Christmas, lunching with the ladies and whatnot; she really had little time to dwell on her absent daughter, although of course she missed me (which is why she’d call me every day).

But now? Now I have a daughter!

Almeno non sei sola,” they say! At least you’re not alone!

Men apparently don’t count for much in this “alone” equation since P has been in my life for ten years . . . but finally I am no longer alone since I have a daughter!

Meanwhile, this here mommy, like most mommies of small children I know (including Italian ones), lovesloveloves her teeny tiny taste of alone time almost as much as life itself. I jealously guard those wee hours of the night when the house has curled up and gone to sleep like a toddler holding all the toys.

But don’t tell the nonne that.

I’m not even going to attempt to explain “me time” now that they can finally breathe a sigh of relief for lonely ol’ me.


As you may have guessed from the graphic above, this is my first post with the Italy Blogging Roundtable, a group of seven bloggers who write about a chosen theme each month. This month’s theme was “lost in translation,” and you can read the posts from my fellow Ladies of the Roundtable here:


Best Overall Blog for Lovers of ItalyI am thrilled to report that I have been short-listed for Italy Magazine’s Blog Awards in the category of Best Overall Blog for Lovers of Italy. Fellow Roundtable Ladies Alexandra of ArtTrav (Best Art & Culture Blog) and Kate of Driving Like a Maniac (Best Travel Blog) are also nominees!

If you’d like to vote, visit the Blog Awards site and click away; no registration necessary! Seems like you can vote as many times as you’d like (?) FWIW 😉 Voting ends February 27.

Grazie mille and see you next month round the ‘Table!

36 Beans of Wisdom to “Lost in Translation: Adventures in Sola-tude”
  1. 02.20.2015

    You know, when I was brainstorming for this topic, I was very close to writing about how “privacy” has no translation in Italian, and it was a very similar discussion to your observations about alone/lonely. I’m an extrovert, but I also jealously guard my privacy…which is a delicate balance in small town Italy where being up in your neighbors’/relatives’/butcher’s biznez is the national sport…

    michelle Reply:

    I was actually thinking myself that privacy could be a part II to this…P is pretty private, I have to say, for being in a small town situation, but I think some of that also comes from the possibility of malocchio hanging overhead…..

  2. 02.20.2015

    One of the most frequent sources of despair for my Canadian husband. I have the Italian sense of privacy (i.e. no privacy at all) and “solitudine” and he of course has the North-american sense of it. Not easy to reconcile the two. He has given up…

    michelle Reply:

    I suppose I’m lucky that P doesn’t really question my alone time need…it will be interesting to see how Marisa is about such things 😉

  3. Love this! I think I still confuse the locals after nearly eight years of being here. What does she do all day? Even when I explain that I work at home and that seems to satisfy them, it’s short lived. At least I’m doing something! But that doesn’t help the being ALONE to do it part, which is massively perplexing and concerning. Which is funny to me since being alone is, perhaps, the most important part of writing! So happy you’ve joined the Italy Blogging Roundtable. I’m off to read the other posts now!

    michelle Reply:

    Ooh boy, talk about another difficult to explain concept…working from home! That one, though, baffles many an Anglo as well though haha 😉

  4. Marsha

    What a great theme! I very much relate to what you’ve written.

    michelle Reply:

    Thank you, Marsha!

  5. carol sansone@LivingItalian2

    Introvert beautifully explained…….mille grazie

    michelle Reply:

    Grazie a te, Carol 🙂

  6. 02.20.2015

    It’s something that I’ve come across, linguistically, from the other side of things, as a teacher trying to explain ‘lonely’ vs ‘alone’. 9 times out of 10, students don’t really get the concept, I have to say! Maybe it’s an Anglo thing? I love my time alone, though – and yes, I’m very rarely lonely 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    Oh yes that must be difficult to teach if your students simply don’t get how there *could* be a difference! Anglos unite (separately, in their own homes)! HA!

  7. Susan

    Nice to read you again, M. I think it’s important to consider that even for the introverted, it is a matter of electing to be alone. When it is no longer a choice but somehow imposed by circumstance, even the most introverted can be caught up short & think, oh no…lonely.

    I also know what it’s like to explain to southern Italians (also to some gregarious Greeks & life-of-the-party Lebanese) the concept of “me” time. I never made a dent but they did adapt. 🙂


    michelle Reply:

    Ciao Susan 🙂 Oh yes, everyone can certainly be lonely, introverted and extroverted alike, but then again people in the company of others can also be lonely too…..

    Susan Reply:

    Oh yes. That is the most awful feeling.

  8. 02.20.2015

    What a nice thought – and welcome to the Roundtable.
    I thought it was just me who was a bitch and likes being alone. I think my MIL thinks I’m nuts when hubby is away and I enjoy whole evenings just writing a blog post or reading a book… Glad to know i am not “sola” in this!

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks Alexandra! I know, my MIL also finds it odd (though doesn’t exactly say it) when I prefer alone (or at least when I used to, pre-kid). I’m quite lucky, in a way, that they don’t live within walking distance, or otherwise I would have a lot more company I’m sure. Now that sounds bitchy, but hey, it is what it is 😛

  9. Oh my husband will never understand my love of being alone, he likes having someone with him all the time and I love heading out by myself whenever I get a chance. I traveled in my 20’s solo and loved it. Totally love your maiden post with the round table, perfect and so beautifully shared…….PS once you are a Mum you are rarely alone lol, my little boy still comes in unannounced if I am in the loo x

    michelle Reply:

    Thank you, Lisa 🙂 You remind me now that once when I told my MIL that I would be at the gynecologist (nearish to her house), she actually showed up there…happened again later when I told them I would be in the area for M’s vaccinations and my FIL showed up. Needless to say, I try not to let those things slip (as well-meaning as they are, of course!) 😉

  10. 02.20.2015

    I know this feeling except I don’t really like being alone , and I often feel lonely. I don’t like my own company that much and I don’t have children at home anymore. I now find though that I don’t mind travelling alone , as long as I am going to stay with someone. Not sure I could do the whole trip on my own. I am fine when staying with a friend and then having to go off on my own ,, and meet up later.. I can understand what the Italian ladies are saying .. I live surrounded by houses here in the UK and I look out , at different times of the day , and think “what do they do all day” . Great topic,

    michelle Reply:

    You remind me that I look at some of the people around here and wonder how they can do chit chat all day…it would exhaust me! To each her own 🙂 It’s good to hear that you can travel a bit by yourself, so hopefully that curbs some loneliness 🙂

  11. I have this same “alone does not mean lonely” conversation – with myself, naturally – every time I’m traveling in Italy for work & walk into a restaurant asking for a table for one: “Sono da sola.” The request itself makes you essentially declare, to Italian ears, that you are lonely. I say it with a smile, always, but that part never registers.

    michelle Reply:

    Eating alone in Italy…funny that never seems to make the “what not to do” lists, but if you want to fit in, that would definitely be on there! Eating with a book in hand must really be a sight hahaha….

  12. 02.21.2015

    Yes, I voted twice for your blog. Being alone and being lonely are truly two different things. I wish I could turn off the sounds around me and especially the thoughts within my mind and find the wonderful peace you have. Being Italian with three other siblings find you longing as a child to create and find your space of peace you need growing up. Not saying I don’t love my sisters. When becoming adults we find alone time is something we cherish, it gives us a wonderful feeling of contentment a place to organize ourselves and strange as it sounds it is at this alone time I truly find the love of self so I can share myself better with others. Enjoyed the post. It also made me realize it’s not selfish to feel this way. Thanks Paulette

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks so much for the votes, Paulette! You’re right that there is a kind of selfish feeling/overtone sometimes for those who just kind of prefer to be alone sometimes, and probably especially for women, and especially especially mothers. I only had one brother growing up, and he was six years older, so I actually grew up with *a lot* of alone time, so I suppose I just got used to it 😉

  13. Gil

    Nice to see you blogging again. Interesting subject and one I never really thought much about being the married old guy that I am. Have voted for your blog a few times.

  14. Ben Martinez

    Congratulations on joining the Roundtable, Michelle. I’m coming to Badolato from mid May to mid June this summer, with an easel and paints ( umm…and brushes!). I’m telling everyone that I’m going to get some painting done, but far niente sounds like a pretty good motto, too.

  15. 02.26.2015

    This post reminded me that one of my favorite things to do when traveling for work in a foreign country (or city) is to take myself out to a nice long 2 hour solo lunch with a book. I find that French restaurants tend to be very accommodating to this indulgence and I always feel like I’ve given myself such a treat. But, I’ve *never* tried it in an Italian restaurant (even one in the U.S.) and I think it’s because deep down, I knew from my time in Italy that culturally, it would likely be anathema.

    Thanks for the links to the Roundtable. I’m going to enjoy reading them, da sola, stasera.

  16. 03.01.2015

    I find i often have this conversation with myself… Am I ‘da sola’ or ‘isolata’? I like some alone time especially for reading or writing-and have had to get used to it living alone. I think there is a fine line between the 2 and I have to be careful not to step into the ‘isolata zone’. Auguri on joining the blogging gruppo! Ciao, Cristina

  17. 03.15.2015

    Buon pomeriggio!
    I’ve just discovered this blog and I think I will no more be able to do without following it. It is so interesting for me to understand what people coming from other countries think about us. For me it is funny, but also very usefull. It makes me think…which is always a good thing!
    By the by, I am a 34 Italian girl living “alone”, but not feeling “lonely” :-).
    Even so, I well understand what you are talking about. You can imagine how many people have asked me during the years “why do you live alone” ??? For many people (not for all, I have to be honest) it was difficult to belive I could feel good.
    But I need my space and I love my indipendence and my freedom. I am not a lone wolf, I have got a relationship, a lot of friends, a nice job…and a very large family!But only spending time just with myself made me overcome my fears (at least some of them!) and understand my desires.

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