Travel Fail: Italian Bar Bill Blunder

So there we are in Harry’s Bar, Venice. One of the most famous bars in Venice, if not Italy, if not the World…. no… definitely the world. Harry’s Bar is, at the very least, world renowned. Not so much for fancy cocktails; nor for a dark, moody atmosphere and certainly not for pumping tunes late into the night… Harry’s Bar is the home of the Bellini and hence, Harry’s Bar is the birthplace of an iconic Italian beverage which is now enjoyed across the globe (it is also the birthplace of Beef Carpaccio … which lacks somewhat in its appeal compared to a sweet, bubbly Bellini!). Over the years Harry’s has attracted refined, international clientele such as Ernest Hemmingway, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Truman Capote and the Rotheschilds as well as famously hosting the Kings of Spain, Yugoslavia and Greece plus the Queen of Holland who all coincidentally turned up one summer in 1935….

Back to the present and Harry’s Bar has a refined, gentleman’s club kind of vibe. The walls are covered in varnished wood panelling and the staff sport immaculate white aprons that disappear into their crisp white shirts. The sunlight pours through the Grand Canal facing windows and the best seats in the house are reserved exclusively for the big spending diners or regular patrons. You can imagine whiskeys being swirled and cigars being cut for the Godfather and his cronies whilst the finest champagnes (sorry.. Proseccos!) and oysters are passed around infamous mafioso familias. I get the impression that lots of deals were struck within Harry’s 4 walls. Stepping in through the door from the bustling Venice promenade certainly felt like we were stepping into a 1930’s time warp. You will definitely experience a few stares from the regular crowd. Most people pass by this unmarked door- the only people that enter are locals or those who are aware of its iconic status.

We enter through the small, side door and are led upstairs to a small, seated bar area hosting 6 full tables packed into a space no bigger than my kitchen at home. At €28 a drink people are clearly here just to say they ‘visited Harry’s bar’ and the staff know it. Our Bellinis are poured straight from a premixed bottle and are delivered with olives and hot croquettes that nobody ordered. Just like the patrons on this table before us, I feel like we’ve been done over. I immediately sent back the olives but the croquettes were warmly welcomed by my rumbling tummy.

We sipped on what was, in all fairness, a pretty decent Bellini and we watched, with a real voyeuristic perversion, the shock on people’s faces upon receiving their bar bills, the price list or their unwanted olives. It was amazing watching soo many husbands shaking their heads at almost identical moments; you could call it with a stopwatch. Overall, I think we played the whole thing pretty cool and although we were just a few days into our trip we were comfortable with basic Italian phrases (enough to order from the menu, say our please and thank you and pretty much con most taxi drivers, supermarket workers or bartenders into thinking that we could speak Italian fluently). We looked like players. We balled in, ordered drinks, rejected food (shock, horror) and chilled. I like to think we looked comfortable in spite of the mafioso vibe around us and the hoi polloi besides us who sat wide eyed and open mouthed. All was well until it was time for us to order the bill…

Now as I’ve said above, we were getting pretty comfortable with our Italian vernacular. We knew the basics and we were not afraid to use them, often catching Italians off guard when we couldn’t reply to whatever their Italian comeback was.

It’s time to order the bill but the word for ‘bill‘ has slipped my mind. Was it conto or canto? Or cante?! Crap. I’m getting confused with Antonio Conte the ex-Italia football manager. I don’t want to look a fool after playing it so cool for a good half hour. I whip out my Italian translation app. I spot “Can I have the bill please?” I know the phrase but I’m just missing the most important word “bill” I click.

And boom; another travel fail.

I didn’t realise this at the time but my phone is on full volume. And the app speaks. Loudly! POSSO AVERE IL CONTO PER FAVORE? echos around the silent room. The scream of an Italian man’s voice booms out of my phone’s surprisingly impressive speakers and through to the bar as if I have just stood up and shouted (nay, demanded) the bill in a furious outburst. The whole room fell silent to look at me. One lady dropped an olive and you could physically hear it bounce off the table in front of her. There was deathly silence in the air. It was as if I had fired the first shot in a mafia stand off as we waited for their retaliation.

Just as I expected the manager to come over and plant the kiss of death on my cheekbone he appeared from nowhere with a smirk. “Play it again!” He screeched.”POSSO AVERE IL CONTO PER FAVORE” this time it was him shouting it at the bar man. They both laughed and repeated it again in unison, with gusto. “POSSO AVERE IL CONTO PER FAVORE, POSSO AVERE IL CONTO PER FAVORE, POSSO AVERE IL CONTO PER FAVORE“. Mrs DreamFlyDiscover and I started to shrink very quickly in fits of both laughter and embarrassment. Luckily, by pure fluke, all of the tables but one were empty and the joke was shared amongst just us six (and whoever else heard the announcement within a half mile radius!!) and we made a quick escape never to be seen again.

So there you go ladies and gents- be careful with your translation apps, your volumes and, of course, be careful when pretending to be a cool, smooth Italian Lothario when you really have no Italian game whatsoever…

Cocktail - dreamflydiscover


Have your foreign language skills ever got you into trouble abroad? Have you found your own language barriers? Ever annoyed a (possible) mafioso hit man by demanding the Conto? Yes, Conto… funnily enough I don’t think I’ll forget that word from now on….

Laptop- dreamflydiscover

When you’re me this Travel Fail stuff happens on the regular… check out some of my other fails below:

Travel Fail: Confusion in Copenhagen

Travel Fail: My Honeymoon Hooker in Sydney

Travel Fail: Britney Bites Back in Vegas

or check them all out on my Travel Fails page. #notproud

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9 thoughts on “Travel Fail: Italian Bar Bill Blunder

  1. Oh wow, I laughed my way through this post! At least now you know you will ALWAYS be able to ask for the bill in Italy, if nothing else! My biggest language mistake was summer 2011 in Peru – I thought it’d be a great idea to spend 6 weeks there to brush up on my Spanish before starting my Translation degree. Anyway, WiFi didn’t exist over there at the time and I didn’t have a phone so if I wanted to let anybody know I was still alive it was internet café or nothing. There was one not far from the house I was staying at, and so a few days into the trip I asked my host father how to ask ‘can I use a computer?’ and of course misheard him. He said ‘maquina’ as machine/computer, but I somehow heard ‘mantequilla’ meaning butter. So at least three times a week for the next 6 weeks I was waltzing on in and saying “hello, please can I use a butter for an hour?” The lady in charge of the café was in hysterics every time I asked, but it wasn’t until my very last visit that I twigged why.

    Liked by 1 person

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