Saturday, May 5, 2018
I am finally buckling down to learn Italian for my upcoming trip to Rome. My goals are modest; I merely want to be able to tell people in perfect and natural Italian that I can't really speak Italian. This will confuse them so much that they will speak to me in Italian, but at that point the onus will be on them!
"What onus?" You ask.
Anyway, it's a fair bit of work to learn Italian even to this admittedly paltry level, partly because it requires a background knowledge of greetings and numbers and rhythms and the ability to apologize to people. You have to get enough sense of language and the confidence to be able to clearly tell people you don't understand anything, especially in the stressful hurly burly of Roman life.
So the way I am learning all this mastery of non Italian is through a language CD my wife and I keep on a flash drive in our car. Lately I listen to it all the time. It's a good CD, but there is one part I particularly love and cannot stop practicing. It's the emergency section.
With real alarm the Italian speaker cries out "Fuoco!"
This means "Fire!" All day at work I walk around yelling "Fire!" But I do it in Italian, so no one is particularly alarmed. After "Fuoco!" on the CD they yell "Aiuto!"
That means "Help!"
Then there's "Ladro!" Which means "Thief!" This goes really well with "Aiuto!" So whenever anyone sets off the alarm at the security gates of my library I get to cry out "Aiuto, ladro!" which would probably be offensive to a library patron who innocently has a book from another library system that's setting off our security, but only if they were Italian and they understood that what I was yelling at them was "Help, thief!"
Fortunately I have a solution for the off chance that an Italian might be visiting our library and I yelled "Thief!" at them, or screamed that there was a fire, or that someone should call a doctor ("Chiami un dottore!").
I will look reassuringly at them. "Mi dispiace," I will say. "Non parlo davvero Italiano."
Depending upon my delivery, they might understand.