Thursday, June 13, 2013

Communicating in Italian

One of my favorite things about being in Venice was the experience of being in a place where I didn't speak the language. I found that I was quieter and self-conscious, and it occurred to me that this is how many people feel when they come to America. I could be quite voluble when I ran into a conference-goer, but otherwise I spoke very few words.

People in St. Mark's Plaza
I learned some basic Italian to smooth the way. I took a 4-week night class, studied a phrase book, and listened to a CD. I typed out some phrases I might need. Things like, "Dov'e la toilette?" and "Vorrei un bichierre du vino" and "il conto, per favore." I could say I'm lost, I don't understand, and ask for my room key. I also knew my basic numbers.

Everyone says that you don't need to know the language when you go to Europe, that "everyone" speaks English. That just seems rude to me. I saw this as an opportunity to expand my knowledge, and I'm glad I did it. Not everyone in Venice speaks English, and many that do have limited vocabularies. My hotel staff were pretty fluent, for instance, but they didn't know "Advil" (if I had said "ibuprofen," they would have gotten it, since the Italian is "ibuprofene"). The merchant in a paper shop in Dorsoduro didn't speak English. Even those that spoke English well were amused by my attempts to speak and tried to encourage me. I learned from the hotel staff to say "Vado fuori" when I was leaving and that I had to put the "cento" into my room number, "due cento settante sette."

Ultimately, Italian is a beautiful language that was a pleasure to speak. I wish I had another month there so that I could become more comfortable with it.

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