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Being Embarrassed in Italian

In this lesson, we’ll talk about a curious use of the noun imbarazzo (embarrassment). But first let’s look at another word associated with embarrassment: the noun la vergogna and the verb vergognarsi (to be ashamed, to be embarrassed). Here, you need context to help decide if someone is ashamed or embarrassed because they're closely tied.

Valeria, eri disperata, non è colpa tua.

Valeria, you were desperate. It's not your fault.

Però mi vergogno molto.

But I'm very ashamed.

Captions 6-7, La Ladra - Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 8

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In the following example, the meaning is more of embarrassment. Note that the speaker is using the subjunctive.

Suo padre alleva pecore. È normale che se ne vergogni un po', no?

Her father raises sheep. It's normal for her to be a bit embarrassed about it, right?

Captions 69-70, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 2

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Italian often uses the noun form imbarazzo (embarrassment) with the preposition in (in) when expressing embarrassment, as in the following example.

Te ne sei andata come se avessi visto il diavolo.

You took off as if you'd seen the devil.

Scusami, non so che cosa mi è preso, forse mi sono sentita in imbarazzo.

Sorry, I don't know what came over me, maybe I felt embarrassed.

Captions 27-28, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 12

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In this week’s segment of La Ladra, Dante and Eva’s son are looking at bicycles, to replace Eva’s old bike, which Dante inadvertently wrecked. The bike store proprietor says:

Ecco, non c'è che l'imbarazzo della scelta.

Here we are. Just an embarrassment of riches to choose from.

Caption 37, La Ladra - Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 1

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The above translation uses an English idiom, which comes from an 18th-century French play. “Embarras” in French means “embarrassment” or “confusion.”  We could also say that the choice is overwhelming or almost embarrassing, because every item is worthy of being chosen.


L’imbarazzo della scelta is a great expression to be familiar with because it’s used quite often when someone is a presented with a vast choice of great things to choose from, for example: What Italian city would you like to visit? C'è solo l'imbarazzo della scelta. The problem is choosing one!


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