All South Africans with bank accounts know that they have to FICA themselves, or they will have access to their money swiftly denied until they go to the bank and get it done.

FICA stands for “Financial Intelligence Centre Act” which requires every individual with a bank account to provide incontrovertible proof of residence to the bank.

What on earth does this aggravating and intrusive requirement have to do with the luscious, ripe fig pictured above?

In Italian, a fig is a ‘fico‘.

English speakers don’t think there is too much of a difference between a word ending in ‘-o’, or ‘-a’ in Italian, and are often careless with these endings. In Italian, if a word ends in ‘-o’ it is masculine, and if it ends in ‘-a’ it is feminine.

So ‘fico‘, ‘fig’ is a masculine word. There is no feminine ‘fig’ and if you say the word with an ‘-a’ at the end, you have just said something extremely rude in Italian. So rude, in fact, that I’m not prepared to say much more than it is the word for ‘female anatomy’ in the most vulgar sense.

I suspect anyone who has been, as we say here, FICA’d (suddenly unable to access their money because the bank doesn’t have, or has mislaid their details), will find themselves smugly satisfied to think of the word in the, shall we say ‘Italian way’.

I was recently speaking to an Italian friend, Silvia, and said of someone else ” √® andato alla banca per fare la sua FICA” (he has gone to the bank to do his FICA) without thinking.

She turned every shade of red, then started giggling, and finally ended up on the floor laughing hysterically.

In Italian, I had just implied that our mutual friend had gone to the bank with very unseemly intentions indeed. It reminded me again how easy it is to be misunderstood when you are learning a new language.

I should mention that if you refer to a man as a ‘fico‘ in Italian, you mean he is handsome. You cannot refer to a woman in this way, and certainly not by changing the ‘-o’ to an ‘-a’.

If you do, don’t be surprised if your face is well-slapped. You have been warned!