Al fresco dining: you hear it and images of bohemian terraces, furnished with early 20th century country style decor come to mind. A topiary here, the sunset there, rustic, wholesome yet elegant cuisine in your plate. A Michelin starred bistrot that nobody knows about, if that was possible.
In English, that’s what the locution “al fresco” is associated with: the idea of having your meal outside, sitting in a restaurant’s outdoors area. And mind, the association is not at all casual, because in Italian “al fresco” means “cool,” “to be or to stay somewhere cool:” so the idea that eating “al fresco” means eating outside makes perfect sense, especially when you think of the immense pleasure of having a bite in the evening Summer breeze, after a day spent sweating.
But alas, the Italian “al fresco” and the English “al fresco” are only half siblings.
Of course, the English expression is in Italian, and of course, its meaning is associated somehow with the literal meaning it has in its original language, but the story is more complex than that.
You see, in Italian, we don’t use “al fresco” when we have dinner in a restaurant’s veranda; in that case, we quite simply say “mangiare all’aperto,” or “sedersi nel dehors.” To be “al fresco” means something quite different: it means to be in jail!
Yes, “essere al fresco” is a familiar way to say someone ended up in prison: not quite the same as the fancy dining experience concocted by the English version of the expression.
And then, we shouldn’t forget another common Italian locution with the word “fresco”: “stare fresco”, which means being in trouble.
A bit of a false friend, this “al fresco,” isn’t it?
L’hanno arrestato per furto. E’ al fresco da una settimana!
He was arrested for robbery. He’s been in jail for a week.
Se non studi, stai fresco! Perderai l’anno scolastico.
If you don’t study, you’ll be in trouble! You’ll fail the year.
Stasera abbiamo deciso di mangiare in terrazza, all’aperto.
Tonight, we’ll eat on the balcony, al fresco!