In most big Italian cities and even in small towns, it's fairly easy to get by with English. Still, it's worth your time to speak and understand a few basic phrases and greetings. A well-placed Italian phrase can help out in a pinch and is respectful to the many locals whose first language isn't English.
A common greeting you'll hear in Italy is "ciao!" Pronounced like the word "chow," it's an informal way to say both hello and goodbye. You may also hear "ciao bella" -- or "bello" if addressing a man. It translates to "hello, beautiful," which is a bit flirtatious, but it's generally meant as a friendly greeting. If you'd like to address someone more formally, you can say "buongiorno," which is a formal version of "good morning." "Buona sera" is similar, but it means "good evening." Another informal way to say goodbye is "arriverderci."
Formal and Informal Introductions
To introduce yourself in Italian, say "mi chiamo" followed by your name. "Chiamo" is generally pronounced "yamo," similar to the Spanish word "llamo." If you're not sure how well the person speaks English, you can ask them by querying "pari inglese?" An Italian may respond with "come stai," which is an informal way of asking how you're doing. "Va bene" indicates you're doing well, while "cosi cosi" means you're just okay -- similar to Spanish's "asi asi." If you're just trying to catch the attention of someone on the street, "signorina" is the proper way to address a younger woman and "signora" is equivalent to "madam." Likewise, "signor" is equivalent to "sir."
Directions and Help
One of the most useful Italian phrases to know is "dove posso trovare il bagno?" or, "where is the bathroom?" For those shopping in Italy, "quanto costa" means "how much does this cost?" If you bump into someone on the streets or need to squeeze by someone on the subway, "permesso" is a polite way of saying "excuse me." If you need assistance from anyone, "posso aiutarti" is the best way of asking "can you help me?"
Other Common Sayings
Every language has its unique idioms and phrases that don't quite translate to other languages. Italian is no exception. Italians will often accuse cheapskates who never pay the bill as "avere le braccine corte," which means "to have short arms." The insinuation is that they seemingly aren't able to reach into their wallets to pick up a tab.