The phrase mangiare a ufo came up during one conversation. Mangiare means “to eat” and UFO is of course an unidentified flying object, but what is “eat at UFO” supposed to mean?? I was wondering if some restaurant opened with that name and was sure that if I just kept following along with the conversation, I would figure it out, so I just pretended I knew what was going on and waited for things to unfold. The group didn’t let me though, and the conversation stopped right there.
So “eating at UFO” means eating for free, the Milanese finally told me with grins on their faces, after enjoying my bewildered expression for a moment.
Huh? I said, and the conversation stopped again. They told me that the phrase originated with the building of cathedrals and such, but no matter how many hints they gave me, I was still confused. What does eating for free have to do with UFOs? There wasn’t any obvious connection.
They went as far as telling me that the phrase came from Latin, but I’ve never studied Latin. Figuring that the conversation was about to get complicated, my face definitely looked increasingly troubled.
That may be why they decided to explain it to me in a simple, lighthearted way—which then got me seriously interested in my new phrase. I couldn’t wait to use it!
Ad Usum Fabricae means “for factory use” and was abbreviated to A.U.F. when it was written on cargo vehicles or transport ships, which apparently was done for tax exemption purposes they were carrying building materials for constructing cathedrals, for example.
This tax exemption system was called Ad Usum Faricae Ambrosianae when they were building cathedrals in Milan—with Ambrosianae being the name of the guardian deity of the city.
This would be shortened to mangiare a UFA, however, so I still didn’t get the UFO thing.
Mangiare a sbafo means to be treated to a meal, so when they mixed it together with mangiara a ufa, they ended up with mangiare a ufo. Eventually it came to mean more “eating for free” than being treated to a meal. You can’t just use it in every situation, but if you get it right when you’re around the fun-loving Milanese, you’ll definitely surprise them and may even get a laugh.
Incidentally, when you pay in a restaurant, facciamo alla romana “let’s do it Roman style” means splitting the tab evenly.
By the way, most of the building materials transported under the Ad U.F.O tax exemption system were marble. The quality and beauty of Italian marble is so famous that it’s been exported all over the world. I’d love to do the bathroom in my house in marble, too.
However, there is one type of marble that can never be shipped out. It’s marble that the Italians themselves can never buy—much less export to others. It’s called candoglia, and it is only used to build the cathedrals in Milan. It’s mined in the Piedmont region, which borders Lombardy, where Milan is located. If ever you see a Milanese cathedral, you’ll appreciate its beauty immediately. An acquaintance of mine works for a construction company, and even they had to quickly give up trying to get candoglia marble.
I’m used to seeing Milanese cathedrals at this point, but now that I know there’s no way to get the marble they’re made out of, it makes me want to reach out and touch the stone.