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!


Farfallina - Roam 2 Rome said...

That's funny, it reminded me of my first two moves to Italy when I kept everything 100% Italian...

Okay, so it might still be the case! but now that I'm comfortable in Italian, I'm not so rigid about excluding English :)

BlondebutBright said...

Good for you for learning Italian right away! I did the same thing - avoiding other Americans - when I first moved to the Netherlands. But it was more than just language - I really wanted to surround myself only with people from other cultures! Now I also really enjoy bonding with Americans - especially over the cultural differences that only we (being from the same country) can appreciate.

Romerican said...

farfallina: yep, once you make it over the last linguistic hurdle, it's total freestyle.

blondebutbright: welcome! i agree, i love gatehring with my american peeps and complaining, venting, praising all the cultural difference AND i love being able to talk about pop cultural and certain references that only an american could understand.

Kataroma said...

I can't be bothered doing anything special when it comes to learning Italian. I'm kind of "meh" about Italian and living in Italy (I used to hate it, now I'm kind of neutral) so I don't really care about it one way or the other. I'm pretty fluent after 2 years here although I haven't really studied Italian or made any special effort. I speak English at home for example - but the language inevitably seeps in via TV, Italian friends, work etc. It's not a difficult language so you just pick it up. I see Italian as a tool only and to be honest, don't care if I speak it perfectly or not. People understand me and i don't have one of those awful accents and that's fine.

Part of it is that I've kind of been there done that already with language learning. I'm passionate about Russia and all things Russian and in my early 20s studied the language and fell head over heels for it. Unfortunately, it's a really difficult language- the grammar is a killer. When I went to live in Russia at age 23, I immersed myself in the language and culture, living with a Russian family and not hanging out with foreigners. It was a very difficult and lonely time - 1995-6 were lean years in Russia - and Russian is not a language you can just start blabbing in like Italian so I could not really express myself for some time. But it was also just sooo fascinating to me to be there and I was in love with the language - Russian poetry etc.

Romerican - it sounds like you felt the same way about Italian when you first came here as I did about Russian all those years ago. :)