09 November 2011


My Italian leaves a lot to be desired.   Often, I know the words, but can’t get them out in the right order, or I don’t know what article to use or how to conjugate the verb.  Sometimes, it’s just my delivery. 

I’ll walk into a bar and ask for a bottle of water, which (I think) is as easy as saying, “Vorrei un bottiglia d’acqua,” in response to whatever the barrista asks me.

Sometimes, I say it with a question mark at the end, a verbal admittance of my lingual insecurity.  V. thinks that this is my problem, that they hear the question mark which confuses them.   Why is this girl asking if she would like a bottle of water?  I think it’s as simple as the fact that the way I say it is unfamiliar to them.  Once they detect the lack of Italian-ness, their brains shut down and they don’t actually hear the words, however mangled and/or strangely accented, that come out of my mouth.  The words are pretty straight forward: One. Bottle. Of water. 

Maybe it’s that they’re not accustomed to foreigner’s taking a stab at it.  They aren’t used to foreign accents speaking Italian or anything else, unless they live in a big city.  Many people where I live can’t distinguish between American English, British English, Dutch and German, often mistaking me for a German or Ollandese, sometimes English.  It’s as if all non-Italian speech morphs into one big garbled nonsensical blather. 

Almost all foreign TV programs and foreign movies here are dubbed into Italian, unlike in France, where movies in their original version with French subtitles are the norm.  French ears are used to other languages.  Italian ears, not so much.  Unless, that is, they’re watching Jersey Shore on MTV.  This, inexplicably, has subtitles.  Snooki and Pauly D., enforcing the “stupid American” stereotypes while training the ears of the Italian youth, one episode at a time.

This is strange to me, coming from New York and having worked in midtown.  A walk down the street from my office to buy a cup of coffee often resulted in a game of “Where’s the tourist from?”.

I’d hear German, French, Spanish, Italian, etc., on a daily basis and I’d often be asked directions in accented English.  If someone reversed the word order in a heavily accented non-grammatical English sentence, say, for example, asking, “Where there is the Park of Central?”, my brain would re-order the words, eliminate the errors, and I would answer, “Three streets, that way,” while pointing in the general direction.  I would not ask them if they were looking for the Nutella.  This is not what happens when I ask a question here.

Maybe it’s not their lack of exposure.  Maybe it’s just, as F. told me, that “[my] pronounce is simpatico, but ees no Italian.”  Certo, F. É vero.  My pronunciation may be nice and all, but my Italian is very antisimpatico.

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