Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Italian at the library
One would not necessarily think that in the heart of the USA, famous for its disproportionate monolingualism, in the inner ring suburbs of the Twin Cities, a place not particularly noted for its Italian immigrant population, there would be so many Italian speakers. But lo, almost everyone around here speaks a zesty, enthusiastic Italian.
And I am the one who is going to Italy for a month.
On the plus side they all know this and are trying to bring me up to speed on the Italian language. On the down side...
I am leaping a little quickly to the down side here. Let us duly note how very large the up side is on this one. I am going to Italy for a month. This is absolutely winning no matter how one tries to qualify it. Plus, several dozen nice people who speak Italian are trying to help me be able to speak Italian as well. This is so kind of them. They come up to me and ask me questions and say bright, wonderful things in Italian. It is a little like being in Rome already. Oh how fun it must be to be able speak so! But they also seem to expect me to respond to their enthusiastic Italian. They repeat. They look at me expectantly. Then, as I look back at them like a small child playing soccer with Messi, both in awe and understanding nothing of what's happening, they ask "Did you understand that?"
Not wanting to disappoint any of my many Minnesota Italian teachers I employ my minuscule bit of Italian and I guess at maybe what they were saying. I am usually about 12 percent correct. Like pleasant, doting parents they are warmly impressed by my almost total misunderstanding, then they give me a lesson about what they said. I learn how to say things like "thunderstorm" and "weekly" and, with their correcting, relentless coaching, and their helpful prompting, I stammer laboriously through a rudimentary sentence in Italian. Panicked, dependent on their help, seized with shyness and performance anxiety, I forget and misspeak even the few simple words I do know.
And then our lesson is over. "How nice it was to see you!" We say in English. We once again talk about the dates and itinerary of my trip. I can do this part endlessly. And then they are off.
"Arrivederci." We say. "Ciao!" We cry out multiple times. This I can handle.
And then they are gone, and I forget everything.