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Kategorien/Categories:    ›EN‹  ›Kultur/Culture‹  ›Sprachkultur/Language culture‹   –  08.04.2011

Learning the lingo

Communication matters! Having just spent a week in Italy, I realized how important it is to be able to fully express oneself. At least, if you’re the kind of person who likes to have more contact with the natives and learn about the local area and its customs.

A recent trip to Italy put me in a linguistically challenging spot: it was the first time in a very long time, that I was visiting a country where didn’t have at least some rudimentary basics of the native language at hand. And I have to admit, I felt pretty lost.

Beware of the Cat signAs a global nomad, most of my vacation time has been spent in the past with visits to the scattered family. Thus I am used to always being able to express myself quite readily wherever I happen to be. In Italy I found myself reduced to the tried and true hands-and-feet communication, with a wild mix of French and Spanish vocabulary thrown in for good measure. Don’t get me wrong: it works, of course. We figured out everything we needed (including a phone call to the Italian-speaking landlady about leaking pipes in the bathroom), could order and buy food with no problem and were able to understand enough of the local signs to get the gist of things. Heck, anyone can do that.

But that level of communication left me unsatisfied. In a strange country, with different customs and new experiences all around me, I was bursting with questions – and couldn’t get the answers. For example, the area we visited grows a lot plants for the cut flower trade. Some of which I recognized, others, like the intensive cultivation of gorse bushes, left me puzzled. Several times we passed workers in the fields and I my natural urge to just stop and chat with them about this practice was curtailed by the frustration of knowing that I just wouldn’t be able to express myself satisfactorily (not to mention understand their answer!).

I also very much enjoyed the daily routine of visiting to the local bakery in the morning to get fresh bread. The “bread lady” seemed as curious about us as I was about the village (which doesn’t see too many tourists) and we managed to share a bit more information than just the day’s bread order…Yet, I chafed at the boundaries of communication that the situation imposed. How pleasant it would have been to talk with her more freely, and, I’m sure, we both would have learned some interesting tidbits of information about each other's lives.

Enough lamenting. There is, of course, an easy cure: buckle down and learn some Italian. So that the next time, the cat won't always be dying of curiosity and the visit can be even more enjoyable.