There is no one English equivalent for simpatico, which is a bit too bad because it is a wonderful description of a person’s character. As a matter of fact, it has started creeping into English vocabulary: simpatico.
Simpatico quel ragazzo, quello cieco.
That kid is nice, the blind one.
Caption 61, L'oro di Scampia - filmPlay Caption
What are some of the translations of this word?
Often it simply means “nice” as in the above example.
But “nice” has all sorts of connotations, and various Italian translations. One Italian word for “nice” is gentile but that tends towards “kind.” Still another Italian word for “nice” is carino, which is often similar to simpatico in meaning, but can also mean "pretty" or "good-looking" in certain contexts.
Sometimes simpatico means “friendly,” “amicable,” or “likeable.” Simpatico, when used to describe a person (or animal), really refers to personality or their way of relating to others.
Italians also use simpatico, when referring to objects, to mean “cute,” “sweet,” or “funny.” If you do a Yabla search, you will note that both Adriano and Marika make use of this word to describe objects. The object in question isn’t beautiful, but it may make you smile or laugh, as would a simpatico person. In most dictionaries, “cute” is not given as an official translation of simpatico, but in the case of objects, it seems to render the idea better than other words.
In questo simpatico contenitore ho il detersivo per i piatti.
In this cute container I have dish detergent.
Caption 23, Marika spiega - La cucinaPlay Caption
Simpatico is used for a person when you want to say something nice about him or her. The guy may not be good-looking, but he is simpatico (a nice guy). She may not play the piano very well, but she is molto simpatica (very nice).
If you go to the doctor for a procedure that is quite unpleasant, you may use the words poco simpatico.
Ho avuto un intervento poco simpatico.
I had a rather unpleasant procedure done.
Stare simpatico a qualcuno or essere simpatico a qualcuno (to be likeable to someone) is a rather complicated but popular way of saying that one person likes the other as a person, without the ambiguity of the verb piacere, which can have more sensual connotations. See this lesson for more about the difference.
In the same vein, una simpatia is an affinity, an attraction (more mental than physical). There is simpatia between people who get along really well.
Mica te lo devi sposare,
It's not as if you have to marry him,
se è solo una simpatia, un'amicizia...
if it's just an attraction, a friendship...
Captions 73-74, L'oro di Scampia - filmPlay Caption
Prendere in simpatia is “to take a liking to” or “to become fond of.”
L’insegnante m’ha preso in simpatia e m’ha promosso.
The teacher took a liking to me and passed me.
Beware of the false friend “sympathy,” which usually translates as compassione (compassion).