Sono di… Florence?

In The Art of Travel, 2. Communicating, Florence by Isabel1 Comment

I’m a liar. A bad one, but a liar nonetheless.

No, I don’t lie on my taxes. I only lie when it’s necessary. The best example I can think of, and the one that has happened more than once, is when dealing with creepy people. Take last night. I was at Babylon, a dance club in Florence. I was dancing up a storm, having a great time with my friends. It was inevitable that at least one person of the opposite sex would approach each of us; unfortunately I was not excluded from that list.

“What’s your name?” A man grabbed my hand and pulled me close to hear my response. I thought quickly.

“Victoria,” I said. Not a complete lie; it’s my confirmation name! Although I wasn’t feeling particularly holy that night.

“And where are you from?” he asked my cheek. Rule one of stranger danger; don’t tell them where you live. So I improvised.

“Florence!”

“No you’re not!”

“Ha, uh, yeah, I’m from… New York.” Not complete lie, as I do consider myself a New Yorker now. But he didn’t need to know that I hail from outside of Boston. The states are the states; any more detail than that is unnecessary.

I probably should’ve known he’d see through my lie; we were speaking in English at a club notorious for hosting international students. But I had to at least try, and I wasn’t trying to impress. During the day is a different story though.

In my first week, Florence was a dream; so relaxing, so beautiful. But suddenly, I didn’t even want to go out to get food for lunch. Why? I was intimidated; I didn’t want that dirty, bored look that I often get when I speak English. My roommate and I couldn’t help but indulge together in our fears of being “found out” for being American. I love my country, but I don’t need to add on “tourist” to the list of labels people already assign to me. There is certainly a sense of sadness one feels when they order in Italian and get a response in English. They found out, one thinks, I’m a fraud.

Well, maybe not everyone thinks that. But I do find that most people who are aware and in touch with their surroundings don’t want to be one the things that make a “find the odd one out” game out of it. Wherever I go, I speak Italian. Even if the cashier responds in English, I shoot right back with a resentful “si.” And this has limited me at times.

When I’m walking around trying to find a place to grab a panini for my walk home, I have to virtually cut out half of the places that don’t already do take out, since I don’t know how to say that in Italian. Next, I have to find a sandwich I can pronounce, and at a fair price too. If you pay more than 5 euro, you are paying too much.

Perhaps all of these criteria are unwarranted, self-inflicted, and my own problem. Sure, maybe they are. But there is nothing like getting an Italian response to reassure yourself that you are where you need to be, and that you are GROWING. Learning the language is one of my goals while I’m here, and to be treated like a local is the most satisfying feeling I can think of.

The other day my roommate and I got toothpaste at a local grocery store. And when we got to the register, the young man greeted me with a “ciao.” So far so good. He asked me a question, something I assumed to mean “would you like a bag?”

“No,” I shook my head as I picked up my item, “Ciao, grazie!” And he responded in Italian. I had done it! An entirely Italian interaction, no matter how small.

My roommate ran out after me.

“He totally checked you out,” she smirked. I guess some things never change ;).

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Comments

  1. Hi Isabel!! I identify so strongly with the feeling of not wanting locals to find out that you’re not one of them. I don’t know if it’s imposter syndrome or what, but I feel so guilty whenever I’m in a different country and don’t really know the language, or have to rely on English in a majority non-English speaking country. I find it really inspiring that you’re working so hard to improve your Italian in a city where a lot of cashiers and waiters do speak English. I am also very happy to hear that you aren’t being swindled by overpriced paninis!!

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