Monday, August 11, 2008

Di dove sei?

Contrary to what I'd like to think, I do have an accent when I speak Italian. Mind you, I certainly do not sound like Dan Peterson, but I admit that at times an American twang can be heard... My accent or lack of, usually depends on my mood: if I'm tired, stressed, or overworked, my Italian and my Italian accent suffer. And naturally, if I have to speak about topics I lack vocabulary for (ex: explaining to the washing machine repairman what's wrong with my machine), then you can really tell I'm not from around here!

But in my defense, there have been many occasions where I've been involved in conversations with Italians who did not realize I was American until someone revealed it or until I said a word like "computer" and blew my cover. When I have American friends visiting, I usually act as interpreter between them and the locals, who often ask: "How did you learn to speak English so well?" Oh the joy....

I'd say my Italian has a definite Roman inflection* (as does my vocabulary), after all, this is the place where I officially learned Italian and became fluent. Side note: Italians and Romans get a kick out of hearing an American speaking Roman, let me tell you!

But on those days when my Italian is debilitated, you can bet your money I'll hear this: "Di dove sei? Non sei di qua?". Argh! I find it odd that in such a big city, the locals are still so amazed by the fact that foreigners live amongst them. Yeah, I know they ask out of curiosity and to strike up a conversation, but sometimes it's just downright annoying to have someone point out your accent, especially when I am well aware and self-conscious about the fact that I'm speaking shitty Italian. Would a random stranger in a store in NYC say: "You have an odd accent when you speak English, where are you from?". I've never seen it happen... If anything, that question comes up once you get to know the person and are learning more about them.

Yep, it's a little pet peeve of mine, along with being called "ragazzina" (little girl). Hello!? I'm 30-something and I still get called "ragazzina" in this country. In some ways, it's nice but at times it can be an obstacle. Picture this, I have a meeting with someone for work and the secretary calls up to the boss and says: "C'รจ una ragazzina qua per te" (There's a little girl here to see you).... Uhh, that doesn't exactly work in my favor now does it?

*Oddly enough, when I first moved to Italy, people kept asking me if I was "Sarda", I'd yet to learn that word for "a female from Sardinia" (at the time I assumed that word would've been "Sardiniana") so I thought they were asking if I was deaf (sorda). I've never set foot on the island of Sardegna but maybe I should!


Leanne in Italy said...

When I was in Sicily we worked at the CTA airport once a week and all the travel companies would be waiting for their guests. I had a group of Italians all staring at me with shock on my first day. They all ran over to me and demanded I tell them where I learnt my....English.

Since I look Italian they just assumed I had a fantstic English accent, but I had to dissapoint them when in really bad child-like Italian I told them I was a 'fraud' and was actually mother tongue English... I wish I could speak fluent Italian with an Italian accent. But as bel ragazzo says I cannot even begin to work on my accent until I am fluent.

Anonymous said...

As a matter of fact, an accent is evident in almost any Italian person.
I am frequently asked the same question, having lived in several towns and (un)consciously mimicking the Tuscan one I adore. I am almost sure only Romanians and some Slavonic populations speak sucha clean Italian that can be mistaken for nationals. You seem to be the exception. Sardinia ? If you like the sea and its colors, you're missing a lot.

Romerican said...

leanne- Yeah, I'd have to agree with bel ragazzo, fluency comes first then the accent. But I don't if we can ever entirely get rid of our accents. I recall reading a study that said if you learn a second language before you hit puberty then you'll speak it without an accent, if not... you're screwed ;) Oh well.

Anon- I'm no exception, trust me! Meaning I do have an accent, at times I can disguise it more than others but sooner or later it becomes clear that it's not my first language.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of when I was asked that question in Rome last year.
I emigrated to the States from Sicily when I was 14 yrs. old. The tour bus guide just pointed out that I had an accent, but it wasn't the common American accent (I was speaking to my husband in English and communicating to her in Italian).
I tried all my life to lose my accent when I was learning english, only to hear Italians tell me now they hear an accent.
Go figure! To this day, there will be some American telling me that they hear a slight trace of an accent and then there are those who can't believe that it's my second language.
I gave up, it doesn't bother me anymore. We should be proud to be bilingual.
Scusami se ho scritto troppo e spero che mi sono spiegata chiaramente.

Romerican said...

Anon- Brava, you're right! We should be proud we're bilingual, it's more than most people can say.

Nancy - Girl in Giro said...

hmmmm. i am twenty-something and get signora. and i hate that. maybe i should move to rome.

in venice everyone knows i am not venetian. i also do not look very italian--i am blond and have a totally non italian body/ facial structure/ way of dressing. sometimes when i am in the south though, people ask me if i am from friuli or lombardia. boh.

anyway, i am very self-consious of my accent, but i also get compliments for it (very scarily i even had one guy say to me "sentire una ragazza americana parlare in italiano fa sesso") yikes, but in general i think that some people are more sensitive to sounds, and those people tend to have an easier time hiding their accents. i have a friend who is an american opera singer but speaks some italian. although i speak much better than she does (i live here, she doesn't), she has very little accent. could it be that she is just trained to mimmick and listen in a more precise way?

Romerican said...

Hey Nancy- Yeah, I agree, I think some people just have better imitation skills than others. Also, I have a friend who's Cuban and her Italian accent is impeccable probably because she spoke Spanish all her life whereas I spoke English.

lomalinda said...

I've gotten asked several times over the years if I was "Sarda" also and a few times from someone who is actually from there. Have you ever been to Sardegna? I've only been there once - so will definitely have to keep an ear open if we ever make it there again. My family is Puertorican so I have funny American/Spanish accent when I speak Italian. I know what you mean about speaking Italian when you're tired though - there's times when I cringe at how badly I am speaking and just decide I need to call it a day.

Kataroma said...

No one has EVER mistaken me for an Italian (my Italian is way worse than yours plus I'm tall and blonde) but I definitely have those bad days when my Italian is just sooo awwful. I had the same issue with Russian when I was living in Russia ten years ago. It's just a foreign language thing.

And re accents - I agree that it's kind of like a musical gift. I had a really good accent in Russian which I think is partly because I had a real passion for the language and just loved speaking it and also I started learning it young (at 23) and partly due to my old phonetics teacher, Nina. In Italian I don't really bother about pronouncing it perfectly and have never really studied it and it shows. Everyone understands me and I understand them but I can't be bothered learning the congiuntivo or saying "gli" correctly because I just don't care enough about Italian. Or maybe I'm just too old or too lazy!

Miss Expatria said...


I, too:

1. get my cover blown with computer

2. have had italians ask me where i learned english

3. have had northern italians call me una romana because of my accent

4. have had italians who know i am american laugh at my roman accent

5. am SO PROUD when people are shocked to learn i am not italian

deaintheraw said...

I speak fluent Italian as I grew up in Rome, went back to the States at 14 and came back to Italy at 37, but with the weird racism Italians can't help but show, I am always asked if I'm really american - ma tu sei veramente americana- because I'm black and this makes me go arrrgh... another fun thing, since I am fluent and sound Italian, as soon as I have to spell my name for them they freeze and say "ma aspetta, tu non sei Italiana!!" wait you are not Italian hahaha! I don't mind answering where I'm from, but like you I do find it tiring at times. Love your blog btw because you are so real, the good the bad the ugly... you write about it all, and very well too. :) Dea

Romerican said...

Thanks Dea!