Italian Egyptians are a community with a history that goes all the way back to Roman times. Like Greeks, Maltese, and Jewish people among other nationalities and ethnic groups, they were integrated into the Egyptian society and have peacefully coexisted ever since.
The story begins in 36 BCE when the last Queen of ancient Egypt, Cleopatra, married the Roman, Mark Antony, to whom she offered her country as a ‘dowry’. Egypt then remained part of the Roman Empire for seven long centuries. Many people from the Italian peninsula moved to live there during this time.
Since then, there has been a continuous presence of Italian Egyptians and their descendants. For the new generations, there was a considerable amount of cultural assimilation and influence, which went both ways. There was even a Venetian Quarter in Cairo.
After Napoleon I, the Italian community in Alexandria, and in Egypt in general, began growing exponentially. The 1882 census recorded 18,665 Italians in the country; just before World War II, they had reached 55,000 — forming the second largest expatriate community in Egypt after the Greek. Most Italian Egyptians resided in Alexandria and Cairo, and consisted primarily of merchants, artisans, professionals, along with a large number of workers.
On a parallel note, check this photo-article of mine, Echoes From The Past — Alexandria in Photos, to see the see the beauty of that Mediterranean city.
We know from history that whenever different nationalities, cultures, and languages mix, words happen to be borrowed in-between them — like Creole and Pidgin languages for instance. In linguistics, Nativization is the process whereby a language gains native speakers. This necessarily happens when a second language used by adult parents becomes the native language of their children.
One way or another, almost all immigrants and expats, and their children, are affected by the language of the country in which they reside. Though, again, this interlanguage process goes both ways, as my parents and grandparents would agree.
So just like vitesse, ascenseur, gateau, maquillage, soutien, Beau Lac, and Chateau Neuf (شطانوف: إحدى قرى مركز أشمون التابع لمحافظة المنوفية ) were borrowed from French to the Egyptian Arabic dialect, there are words that were borrowed from Italian, most of which have survived to this very day. The following is a list of said words that I grew up using or hearing without really thinking much about their origin.
2. Tarasina: Balcony or terrace (mainly used in Alexandria).
3. Tanda: From Tenda, a cover or sort of curtain.
4. Vaza: From Vaso, Vase.
5. Falso: False or fake. Often used when describing fake goods, specifically jewelry.
6. Belyatsho: From Pagliacco, Clown.
7. Gwanti: From Guanto, Glove.
8. Ballo: Dance or ball, used as an expression to denote chaotic commotion or loud noise.
9. Varanda: From Veranda, Balcony.
10. Sala: Hall or reception area.
11. Bagno: Bath.
12. Fattura: Invoice or bill.
13. Cameraira: From Cameriera, Chambermaid.
My grandmother always spoke about her own grandfather who was feared by all the kids and who lived alone in the third floor of their villa and had his own cameraira.
14. Banzeena: From Benzina, Gas station.
15. Carton: From cartone, Pasteboard.
16. Salata: From Insalata, Salad.
17. Makeena / Makana: From Macchina, Machine.
18. Meckaniki: From Meccanico, Mechanic.
19. Mobelia: From Mobilia, Furniture.
20. Ballone: From Pallone, Balloon.
21. Barouka: From Parrucca, Wig.
22. Rochetta: From Ricetta, Prescription.
23. Tasa: From Tazza, Frying pan.
24. Stabena: From Sta Bene, Is it fine/OK?
This one was quite a shocker for me since I always thought it's “Estabena” in Arabic, which would have made more grammatical sense as a verb.
25. Vitrina: From Vetrina, Shop window.
26. Teatro: Theater.
27. Marca: Brand, make.
28. Torta: Cake, pie.
29. Prova: Rehearsal, test.
30. Vella: Villa.
More additions were kindly added by some readers...
31. Roba Becchia: From Roba Vecchia, junk.
32. Gelati: From Gelato, Ice cream.
33. Locanda: Hotel.
34. Carro: Chariot or wagon (also in Spanish).
35. Lista: List (also in Spanish).
36. Goma: From Gomma, Rubber.
37. Bicicletta: Bicycle.
38. Medalia: From Medaglia, Medal.
39. Bo’: From Bocca, mouth.
40. Besella: From Piselli, Peas.
41. Comodino: Bedside table.
Other than Italian, this wonderful site, YourEgypt, has lists of words Egyptian Arabic borrowed from English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Also check my recent article: Some Arabic Sayings and Their Translations.
From English as a Third Language to Author — How I Expanded My Vocabulary
Words With No Direct Translation To English
More Words With No Direct Translation To English
Words I Made Up
Words I Made Up — The Sequel
Unusual English Words I learned Later in Life
Echoes From The Past — Alexandria in Photos
1920s Egypt in Colours
On Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing
Why Many Place Names End with ‘-Stan’