What’s in a Title? Signora vs. Signorina in Italy

I’m 42 today and, waking up with blue circles and bags under my eyes, I look it. Well, that’s the result of two days on my feet in the kitchen, cooking for 35 people (yes, I did have lots of help – thank you, Shannon!) for our annual Thanksgiving/ birthday/ housewarming feast (the housewarming part is not meant to be annual). Most of the time, people say I look young for my age, and I don’t think it’s just idle flattery.

I’ve been trying to understand the logic by which Italians decide to call me signora (Mrs.) or signorina (Miss). When Ross was small and I was in daily contact with her teachers and other parents at her schools, I was accustomed to being signora, because everyone assumed that, as a mother, I must also be a Mrs.

This signora habit almost got me arrested once. I was getting off the bus in Milan, in a hurry to pick up Ross from daycare, and swept right past the squad of public transport inspectors doing one of their random checks. I completely ignored the calls behind me of “Signorina! Signorina!,” assuming they couldn’t be directed at me. So the inspectors thought I was running away to dodge a fine for travelling without a ticket (actually, I am always scrupulous about bus and train tickets, except when I forget to stamp them).

I’m often called signorina even now. This may be because I often dress informally, by Italian standards, in jeans and sweaters. In a business suit and heels, I’m almost always signora. On some occasions, the choice of address seems to be based on the speaker’s desire to flatter me, and which term they think will accomplish that.

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