Friday, August 31, 2007

Lack of linguistic command

As I stood at the platform awaiting the detestable trenino (commuter train) to Tiburtina, I had the pleasure of overhearing this amusing conversation. ***Note to non-Italian speakers: this probably won't be that funny to you.

Big Fat American Woman (BFAW): So you said you work in a bank, what exactly is your position there?

Dorky Italian Boy (DIB): Is very difficult to explain. In Italy bank have different mansions.

BFAW: Ohhh, the banks have mansions? Is that so?

DIB: Very different from rest of world.

BFAW: I see. But what do you do?

DIB: Uhhh, how do you say? I make the contability.

BFAW: You make what?

DIB: The contability...

BFAW: Countability?

DIB: I make numbers (he mimes typing on a calculator).

BFAW: Oh you work with numbers... you're an accountant! That's a very good job.

DIB: Yes, is good.

The End

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Linguistic command

The other night I was hanging out with a group of friends and something struck me… most of us were speaking English (American English to be exact).
This got me thinking about how ex-pats, at least the ones I know, seem to follow the same linguistic cycle: During my first years in Italy I had very few American friends and made an effort to keep it that way. It annoyed me to be around Americans who preferred to speak English or who didn’t know how to speak Italian at all. Why? Because my main concern in those years was to learn Italian, so I avoided situations where I might end up speaking English all night. I wanted full-immersion, Italian 100% of the time. And it worked! My Italian improved rapidly and I was officially fluent.
But as the years went by I noticed I wasn’t nearly as rigid about not wanting to speak English in Italy, in fact, I actually missed speaking English, I missed shooting the shit in my native tongue. Once I felt I had mastered the language, I allowed myself the luxury and pleasure of seeking out fellow Americans.
Now I have several American friends who are all also fluent in Italian. Most of us have been here for many years and have such a good grasp on the Italian language that we feel comfortable opting not to use it all the time. So it’s not uncommon for us and our Italian/foreign friends to all speak English together. It’s rather amazing and amusing to hear how quickly and easily we all alternate between Italian and English, or how we intersperse Italian words into our English and vice versa. The perfect example: we had an hour long discussion about the comb-over (ala Donald Trump) and continuously alternated between calling it “riporto” and "comb-over" without even blinking an eye. How’s that for linguistic command!