“Uffa” – essential vocabulary when renovating in Italy

According to Word Reference, the Italian word “uffa” means “what a bore!” But, as you most probably already know, Italians have their own body language too and when uffa is accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, maybe a pair of eyes darting up to the heavens, a helluva lot more can be conveyed in those two short syllables. I’ve heard it being used to signify a whole range of emotions from boredom to dejection but also desperation.

As the house renovation progresses, I have found myself using uffa more than I would have liked over the last two weeks.

The first time was finding out that our made-to-measure bathtub had actually been made to the wrong measurements!

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Though it is a decent size (9 sq m), our bathroom doesn’t have a single corner at 90° (do you remember my post about Pythagorus?), it has a sliding door in the centre stopping us from using that part of it (i.e. no tubes or toilets) and on the only really good wall, there has two windows which categorically rule out any other kind of sanitary artifice. All this adds a certain je ne sais quoi when you’re trying to add elements which are – generally speaking – square or requiring privacy.

Consequently, our bathtub was going to be made to spec – with a rounded finish compensating for the the lack of right angles. The shower unit is already installed and when we inquired when the bathtub might be arriving and received that email above…… our reaction was a simultaneous: “uffa!”


If only it were just the bathroom people who are making mistakes.

On Saturday, the carpenters came to fit the shutters that they’d been cleaned up and restored….. only to find that as a result of some really shoddy workmanship from Tweedledum and Tweedledee (our two insulation fitters / painters / buffoons) the outside walls are very visibly not straight.

The shutters were taken straight back to the carpentry workshop for more adjustments. Uffa. 


Today, I’ve just shown the boss of the flooring company that two of the four tiles that were fitted just over a month ago have come loose.

It was little short of a miracle that the plumber came this morning to fit our boiler…… but he left after just a few minutes having made this unfortunate discovery. This then meant calling the flooring company who came round to take a look. Fortunately the boss has promised that, this evening, a workman will come to glue down the tiles once again….. but we’ve lost valuable time because of all these incompetencies. Now, we’ll cross our fingers and pray to the powers-that-be that the plumber comes back again before the end of the week. Uffa. 


Despite all this doom and gloom, the word uffa has a pretty interesting origin. It dates back to around the 14th century when the Vatican State was building St Peter’s cathedral. Because it was for the Pope, all the necessary goods which arrived (stones, sand, sacks, sheep, mules) were stamped with the Latin abbreviation “A.U.F.” which stands for “Ad Usum Fabricae” and gave all these goods total tax exemption. Because there were so many of these items needed for the construction project, the customs officers spent their days saying “auf! auf!” and over time, that morphed into uffa.

Similarly when work started on the Duomo in Florence, all the materials were stamped with: “A U.F.O” meaning “Ad usum Florentinae Operae” and were therefore exempt from the city taxes. Even to this day, “a ufo” means “free” i.e. mangiare a ufo = to eat for free.

Pipes and Pythagorus

The house renovations are moving ahead. Admittedly not as quickly as we had planned, but you can now finally see that progress is starting to being made.  Today the electricians finished laying down the tubes for our lighting, the burglar alarm, the solar panels and the different power sockets. For his part, the plumber has installed pipes leading to and from the two bathrooms and kitchen. Now the builders need to come back and lay the first layer of insulation and flooring.

We had thought it would take a maximum of one month, maybe six weeks, to reach this stage. We’re actually now a full three months later.

A Spaghetti Junction of tubes and pipes

Meanwhile, the bathroom people came yesterday to double-check their measurements. This is absolutely essential because if there’s anything I’ve learnt so far, it’s not to take anything for granted. Check, double-check and triple-check everything.

I’ve already written about the old goat house and how we’ve had to rebuild our new home exactly to the same specifications as the old one. (Did you miss it? Click here.) What I haven’t mentioned is that our house is actually made up of the old, historically-protected goat house and also a part of a more recent construction. I hadn’t talked about this other part of the house because it required far less structural work – just some new interior walls and changing of the doors and windows. It was much easier because it had already been rebuilt in the late 1980s.

Rebuilt. It’s a word that now brings fear. Because this 1980s house was rebuilt exactly to the specifications of the previous house, it is completely squiffy. The only corners which are actually at right angles are the walls that we’ve had the builders put up this summer.

As a result, I asked them to check the angles in the bathroom.

I had expected them to have a L shaped thingamabob. You know, a tool that tells you straight away if you’ve got 90 degrees. But no, the man wields his tape measure once again along one of the walls. He makes a little marking. He goes to the other wall and measures that. Nooooooooo, I think to myself as silently as possible…… I’m about to witness the first time I’ve ever seen a real life use for Pythagorus’ theorum!

“In mathematics, the Pythagorean theorem, also known as Pythagoras’s theorem, is a fundamental relation in Euclidean geometry among the three sides of a right triangle. It states that the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.” (Wikipedia)

I take a breath. This is 2000 year old mathematics put into practice in modern-day Italy! Whatever next……