In a foreign country, knowing how to address people can be a challenge. In English, we have to know whether to be on a first name basis or not, but Italians works a bit differently.
First of all, you need to know whether to be formal or informal. Italians may refer to this as dare del lei (to give the formal "you") or dare del tu (to give the informal "you"). Check out this lesson about the ins and outs of this.
During the period of Italian Fascism, there were strict rules about how to address other people. It's a fascinating story and Yabla has featured a documentary about Fascism and Italian language. Check out the relative lesson: What's the Story on Voi in the Singular?
It's interesting that Italians very often use the equivalent of "ma'am" and "sir" instead of using someone's name: signora and signore.
Sì, signora, dica. -E mio marito non è rientrato stanotte e non ha nemmeno avvertito... e... non è mai successo. Sono molto preoccupata. -Venga nel mio ufficio, signora.
Yes, ma'am, what is it? -My husband didn't come home last night and he didn't even let me know... and... it's never happened before. I'm very worried. -Come into my office, ma'am.
Captions 15-19, Il Commissario Manara S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 2Play Caption
Keep in mind that often, signora and signor are commonly used before a first name. It's midway between formal and informal.
Signora Caterina, non si preoccupi per Brigadiere, perché l'ho portato alla pensione Abbaio Giocoso e starà benissimo.
Miss Caterina, don't worry about Brigadiere, because I took him to the kennel "Playful Barking" and he'll be just fine.
Captions 39-40, Il Commissario Manara S2EP6 - Sotto tiro - Part 14Play Caption
We've also talked about the fact that Italians use the term dottore (doctor) when wishing to treat someone with respect, regardless of whether the person is an actual doctor, or whether he has a PhD. The Dottore is In.
And, like dottore, they will use a title without the name of the person. For instance, in the story of Adriano Olivetti, he was an engineer, so people — especially people who worked with him — would just call him Ingegnere (engineer), without his name.
Ingegnere, Lei mi sta facendo una proposta incredibile.
Sir, you are making me an incredible offer.Play Caption
Lastly, at school, the actual name of the teacher seems to be of relatively minor importance when addressing him or her directly. You simply call your teacher Prof, short for professore (professor, teacher) if you are allowed to by the teacher. When speaking more formally, students will use professore or professoressa, once they leave primary school. If they are still in primary or elementary school, they will use maestra (schoolmistress) to refer to a female teacher. On the subject of the schoolroom, Yabla offers an original content series about the regions of Italy. It's set in a classroom with Anna as the student and Marika playing the (often mean) teacher. How does Anna handle this? It might depend on the mood of the professoressa. Check out the videos here.
Guardi, Lei ha studiato, perché Lei ha studiato, ma mi sta antipatica oggi e quindi Le metto sette. -Ma prof, ma sono venuta volontaria. -E ho capito, però mi gira così.
Look, you've studied, because [and I see] you've studied, but I find you disagreeable today and so I'll put down a seven. But teacher, I volunteered. -Uh, I get it, but that's how it's hitting me today.
Captions 88-91, L'Italia a tavola Interrogazione sulla LiguriaPlay Caption
Yabla offers the TV series, Provaci ancora Prof as part of its growing library. The title is a takeoff on Woody Allen's "Play it Again, Sam."
A student is speaking to his teacher:
Prof, si unisca a noi.
Teach, join us.Play Caption
Of course in American English, we would use Mr., Mrs., Ms, or Miss and the last name of the teacher. The translation we have given is very informal, and calling a teacher "teach" would likely be frowned upon in most schools. But in Italy, it's the norm in many school situations. Good to know!
More about meeting and greeting formally and informally here: I say hello; you say goodbye