You know that you shouldn’t compare apples to oranges. And it’s never nice to find out that you bought a lemon. Ever wondered why Italians say that they will bring oranges when someone goes to prison?

We’ve found a list of all the many sayings using citrus fruit, as well as some very old sayings in regional Italian dialect, so read on and be ready to impress the locals on your next holiday to Italy.


  • If life hands you lemons, make lemonade: when life gets difficult, a positive can-do attitude can change everything.
  • Don’t buy a lemon: it’s the first thing people say when you are off to buy a second hand car, be careful it isn’t a piece of junk!
  • It’s like comparing apples and oranges: when two things are so different they are incomparable.
  • Queer as a clockwork orange: this is a Cockney phrase from East London indicating something bizarre internally, but appearing natural and normal on the surface. Author Anthony Burgess appropriated the phrase for the title of his novel, A Clockwork Orange.


Italy has a rich culture of proverbs and sayings in both Italian and the dialect of the different regions of the country.

  • Acido come un limone: literally meaning, ‘sour like a lemon’, is used to describe someone who is unpleasant
Famous citrus citations
  • Ti porto le arance (I’ll bring you some oranges’): when someone goes to jail, Italians will say that they will bring the oranges. This comes from the fact that in the olden days, sub-par standards at prisons meant that they didn’t provide fresh fruit on the menu.
  • Sei scontato come i mandarini a Natale (‘you are cheap like mandarins at Christmas’): a way to describe someone who is uninteresting, derived from the fact that mandarins are in season and therefore in abundance around Christmas time.
  • Le querce non fanno limoni (‘the oaks do not make lemons’): used to refer to a situation where you cannot ask someone to do something outside of his/her possibilities. It is also used to refer to bad people, from whom you cannot expect will do good things.
  • Aranci aranci, cu havi guai si li chianci: Sicilian dialect for ‘oranges oranges, he who suffers cries for their own troubles’. A proverb referring to the difficulties of cultivating oranges, and how one would complain about this. Everyone has their own troubles to complain about. This can also apply to someone who is indifferent to the pain of others and is concerned only for their own.