One of the first assignments I had upon arriving in Florence forced me to contemplate this topic. Before getting started with Italian class, all students were required to read Dianne Hales’s “Mother Tongue.” The passage reflects how language evolves to become a part of a society. The way we speak entails so much more than words and sentence structure; it is the culture, history, and inherent society that really makes a language unique. This piece by Dianne Hales shows us specifically how politics, art, and more can influence a language and create a sense of community in a nation. This holds true for any country. We think of America as a melting pot, with languages, cultures, and traditions from all over the world – changing how we communicate. This ability to mirror a culture is what makes learning and studying language so important.
This cultural mirror is just what I have seen while attempting to communicate here in Florence. As I try to get around or speak to the natives, it is more of a cultural divide than a language barrier that separates us. The Italian and English languages are not that different – in fact many of the words are exactly the same. However, our cultural differences make the adjustment more difficult.
Just the other day, I was in Venice with three of my friends for a short trip. Our Airbnb host suggested that we try a good lunch spot that all of the locals love. We decided to give it a shot – thinking it must be some of the best food in Venice if it is the locals’ spot. As we get to this crowded, somewhat dingy restaurant (with pigeons inside might I add) we wander around trying to scope out a table and hoping to finally quiet our growling stomachs. As we get upstairs to the main dining area, we finally locate one of two waitresses rushing around and ask them for a table for four. “One minute,” she replies. We wait and wait and wait, and not only do they not seat us, they continuously rush past us, physically pushing us out of the way and ignoring our attempts to ask them what the deal is. Being Americans, we’re under the belief that the customer is always right. We expect good service and constant attention. That is definitely not the case in Italy. In Italy, this attentive service takes a back seat to their laid back culture. In this moment at the restaurant, it was no language barrier that kept us from our much-needed meal – it was our differing expectations. Even if we could speak every word in Italian, we would not have been able to communicate our frustrations because they simply don’t see the world the same way we do.
So, after our one minute wait became twenty, we left the restaurant hungrier than ever and somewhat shocked at the total disregard for our presence in a restaurant. But this is only to say that there are obvious cultural differences that make communicating even harder. Hopefully as I continue to study this language and interact with the community I will become accustomed to the nuances of their culture. I’m sure that once I can understand the way of Florence life I will have an easier time communicating.