Parli Inglese?

In The Art of Travel, 3. Communicating, Florence by AnnieLeave a Comment

After spending the weekend in Venice with two close friends, one of whom is in this class (Hey Marirose!) I feel that I have fully mastered the Italian accent. I’ve taken pride in being the one friend that has a sufficient understanding of the language after having taken Italian 1 last semester. Whenever my group of friends is lost or needs to ask an Italian a question, everyone relies on me to do so, and so happily, I speak. It is quite ironic that I have become the communicator, as for most of my life, I have taken comfort in writing rather than speaking. During the last three weeks, I’ve been able to reverse this role and learn more through language than I ever did over the seven years spent learning Spanish in middle and high school. Language is a curious thing. It’s deeply-rooted into our lives from the minute we are born and develops as we grow older. There are so many words and expressions to describe our everyday lives, yet I’ve learned that in other cultures certain words and phrases exist that do not have a place in our own.

While in Venice, the famous Carnival was taking place. Filled with excitement, my friends and I took pictures and walked through San Marco square to observe all of the intricate masks and costumes. Security was strict as the Carnivale attracted thousands of spectators to San Marco Square. We approached various polizia to hopefully get directions as we journeyed around the city. I asked “Parli Inglese?” so many times, that it was a shock if I heard “No, mi dispiace.” I had become so used to individuals in other countries making it easier for me to speak, and this was truly the first time the roles had been reversed. It was uncomfortable because I had to again be the spokesperson for our group and the “communicator” yet I wasn’t even fully confident in my skills to navigate around the city or to find a museum.

Just yesterday, while buying some books for class, I asked the woman working behind the counter at the bookstore if she could help me locate a nearby copy shop so that I could print my course packet. I was with two of my friends in the same class and one had already gone to the bookstore a few days before. I interpreted the woman’s behavior as being extremely rude. She spoke louder, kept correcting us and not answering us completely, yet she had told us she spoke perfect English. I became frustrated and as I responded with a bit more of an attitude, so did she. I couldn’t have been happier to leave that bookshop!

As we left, I turned to my friend Jordana and asked her if she thought the woman behind the counter was not so nice. She thought that she was very kind and told me about how she had helped her to locate the nearest Kosher supermarket the last time she visited to buy books! I stopped for a second and tried to let this sink in. Surely it was the language barrier? Or maybe it was more of an issue of cultural differences? I couldn’t figure out which it was, and since the initial incident, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a misunderstanding between both our cultures and languages.

Another language barrier caused me to get the wrong ingredient while shopping for breakfast. My “go-to” breakfast is one egg, a banana and a dash of cinnamon mixed together in a bowl and made as a pancake. Then, I add peanut butter on top as “syrup.” It is a fairly healthy recipe and being that cinnamon is one of its healthiest ingredients, I was eager to find it nearby and use it for my breakfast. I walked into a nicer market, and the man putting groceries on the shelf spoke English. However, he was not familiar with the word cinnamon. He had to get another employee at the market to come help me and I had to pull up a picture of the spice. I walked out of the supermarket with a scoop of cinnamon in a plastic bag. Oh well! Not quite the same as in America, but it was a small victory.

(Image: Drinks in Piazza San Marco ; Source: Annie Barson)

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