Quando il gatto non c’è, i topi ballano” is a lovely Italian idiom that we use a lot!

The first time that you hear someone saying “Quando il gatto non c’è, i topi ballano“, you might be a bit confuse.

This idiom is extremely common in Italy and sometimes people say only the first half because everybody immediately catches it.

Can you guess its meaning?

Well, this time it’s not too difficult: even if you just translate it, you can definitely understand what it means.

In English we would use something very similar: “when the cat is away, the mice will play” has exactly the same meaning.

We use this idiom when people do what they want while the boss or someone in authority is away.

Therefore they misbehave or break rules to enjoy their freedom and do what they like for a while.

Let’s see how to use this idiom!

Italian English
Appena i genitori sono partiti, Luca ha invitato tutti gli amici a casa per una festa. Quando il gatto non c’è, i topi ballano! As soon as his parents left, Luca invited all his friends at home for a party. When the cat is away, the mice will play!
Mentre il capo è fuori dall’ufficio, gli impiegati guardano la partita di calcio. Quando il gatto non c’è… While the boss is out of the office, the employees watch the football match. When the cat’s away…
L’insegnante è uscito dalla classe per qualche minuto e i bambini hanno quasi distrutto la classe: quando il gatto non c’è, i topi ballano! The teacher left the room for a few minutes and the children nearly wrecked the classroom: when the cat is away, the mice will play!


These are only some examples but you can think of many more ways to use this idiom, it’s easy!

Do you use a similar expression in your language? Think about it and do some practice!

And if you love Italian idiomatic expressions, you can learn more here or having a look at our dedicated Pinterest board!