Swallowing Toads and Seeing Green Rats

Swallowing Toads at Work. Drawing by my nephew Gaetano

The other day I saw my neighbor, another working Mamma. She is the manager of a popular bookstore in the center of Rome. I asked her how work was going and she said, “Don’t ask, it is exhausting, and as we head towards Christmas it is going to get even worse. “Devo mandare giu’ un quantita’ di rospi al mio lavoro!” Translated: “I have to swallow a huge number of toads on the job.” It is an Italian expression meaning putting up with something unpleasant or humiliating.

I knew exactly what she meant. I swallow some pretty big toads at work too. Now it is one thing to kiss toads and have them turn into handsome princes, it is quite another thing for all us stressed-out, frazzled working Mammas (the opposite of a pretty, delicate, spoiled princess) to spend our days swallowing toads and have those ugly creatures loose in our stomachs.

And from toads to rats…

Last week I picked my youngest child, 11-year-old Chiara, up at school and she was looking slightly abashed.

“Mamma, I got kicked out of English class today,” she said sheepishly.
“Why?” I asked.
“I was chatting too much with my friends.”
“That’s not good Chiara, you need to pay attention in class,” I answered.
“But Mamma it was so easy, peasy lemon-squeezy!”
“Chiara, obviously it is easier for you because you have an advantage. Your mother is American, English is your mother-tongue. Can’t you just be quiet and consider yourself lucky that something is easier for you and maybe you can get a good grade without having to work so hard. I have lots of hard stuff in my life, and if I found something ‘easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy’ I think I would take it and be quiet.” I lectured.

At that point she turned to me and gave me one of those looks that I think she must have learned from someone on the Disney Channel – Hannah Montana, Selena Gomez – it was the adolescent, superior, ‘you-just-don’t-get-it-Mom’ look, and she said, “Mamma…(exaggerated sigh) English is just sooooooo booooring!”

“Ok, so you got kicked out of class, then what happened?” I asked.
“The teacher left me out there for awhile and then she came out and said she was going to send me to the principal, so I only had one option left, I had to cry.”
“Good lord, and then what happened?”
“It worked, she let me back in.”

(Does she take after her mother, sniveling with the Polizia Municipale??)
I was a bit aggravated at this point, but I decided to let it go.

A week later she once again came out of school with that abashed look. As she got in the car she announced,
“Mamma I got a punishment at school, tomorrow I am going to have to stay after school for one hour.”
“What? Again? What did you do this time?”

She launched into a complicated story about a bunch of kids leaving gym class early because they didn’t see the teacher, winding up with, “so Mamma, you have to sign this piece of paper and I have to stay an hour after school tomorrow.”

At the next red light I said, “give me that piece of paper.”
I signed my name and then noticed that there was also a space for her father’s signature. “Chiara, Papa’ has to sign this too,” I pointed out.
“Oh NOOOO! Not Papa’?” she groaned, “what will he do?”
My husband is the tough one in our household and I am the softie, so the kids always try to slide the bad stuff past me in the hopes that it won’t reach Gustavo.

“It is going to be “Sorci Verdi” (Green Rats) sweetie,” I answered. A look of panic swept over Chiara’s face. “Basta Sorci Verdi Mamma!!” (Translated: That’s enough Green Rats Mamma!) I just love that expression and she did not want to hear it.

“Sorci Verdi” is a Roman expression meaning Green Rats and implies fury. I guess it would have been similar if I had said in English “Papa’ is going to see red.” I actually like both those expressions. The idea of green rats swarming around a misbehaving adolescent is pretty ghastly, as is the idea of your father turning into a bull and seeing you as RED.

“Sorci Verdi” is slightly different from “seeing red” because the entire phrase is usually used as “ti faccio vedere sorci verdi” – “I am going to make you see green rats”. Let me give another example of how it might be used. Let’s say a husband goes out and buys a Ferrari without telling his wife. On the way home he stops by his friend’s house to show it off. When the friend finds out he has not told his wife, he might say, “ohhh when she sees that, she’s going to make you see Green Rats.”

I can imagine the husband with his new red Ferrari and all the green rats scurrying around his feet.

Red Ferrari and Green Rats. Drawing by Gaetano

My mamma friend who runs the bookstore said a man was third in line at the cash register the other day and wanted to cut ahead of everyone because he said he was in a hurry. She told him he would have to wait, so he threw the two books he had in his hand at her and left the store. She said she had to swallow that toad. Personally, I think she should have made him see some green rats.

Post in: Italiano


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    What would Kitty SoftPaws (and sharp claws) do with those toads and rats? Bet she’d have a rare good time chasing and dispatching them!

    Here Kitty, Kitty!!

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    Gretchen Bloom

    OUCH !! Fabulous. I will have to practice them a bit before I use them but I bet those expressions could also be useful for me here in Rome!

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    Barbara Landi

    Mi piace molto tuo blog! I understand Italian, but I don’t know the popular vernacular & slang like you do. Italian is such a colorful and illustrative (not the best word) language. Especially people’s last names; Smith and Jones in English are boring flat names that mean nothing. But in Italian there are lots of names like Bevilaqua, Testaverde (the NFL football player) and my favorite….”Mangiacavallo!”

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    lisa chiodo | renovating italy

    Trisha this is just hysterical (funny I mean) my daughter is nine and she also cries to get out of trouble. Fantastic drawings and so funny I can just picture her dismay as I am the softie at our house also. Daddy only finds out about major stuff!
    ciao and love those green rats

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    Liz Cameron

    this is such a super fabulous post. i adore G’s drawings – more more more more of them, please!

    I can’t tell you how often I have used the expression since reading this last week.

    It has me digging for Turkish phrase gold with M. for future blog posts! :)

    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas

      I agree my 12-year-old nephew Gaetano does wonderful drawings. He has already done another one for a post coming up soon on FEVERS and I promise as long as he is willing, I will keep asking.


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