Thursday, January 13, 2011

Comedy and Comprehension

My new years resolution is to commit myself to learning the Italian language. I like to run with themes each year, it seems more practical and realistic than telling myself I will loose weight quickly, drink no wine during the week or break some sort of World Record. It got me thinking when my husband asked last night what this years theme was. Last year was '2010 - Year of Culture and Comedy'. I told him that I hadn't finished being funny yet, (pretty sure he mumbled something like "I have") then I corrected myself by saying with 'finding things funny, not being funny'. So holding onto the comedy, he suggested I replaced the culture with another C word. I have decided comprehension would be appropriate. Comprehension for myself of others, and for others of me. '2011 - Year of Comedy and Comprehension', (and perhaps Confusion).

It is important to know that relative to other European countries, the level of English knowledge in Italy is very low. In more northern European countries, it seems like so many people speak at least a bit of English, in Italy, these people will tend to be fewer and further in between. It may be less evident in the popular tourist areas, but you will still be confronted with it. Therefore, my procrastination is over, I must get the basics of Italian communication.

Last week we were in an Asian restaurant, and a lady who was dining alone was placed at our connecting table. After a few pleasant smiles, hubby struck up conversation. After explaining our background a little, our lovely new friend was so amazed that I came from Australia because my English was so good. I accepted the complement, not entirely sure of its origin. After repeated amazement from her, I realised that she did not realise that English was the spoken language of my home country. What was? Australian? Sentences of pure slang? "G'Day. Been up since sparrows fart and am knackered. Came with ankle biters for some ace tucker, we'll bog into the vedgies and she'll be apples. Scuse the ear bashing." (Translation for non-Australians: "Hello. Woke up early and am exhausted. Came with children for some good food, we will eat vegetables and feel better. Sorry for talking so much.") This ladies confusion just confirmed how far away Australia is from Italy, and perhaps how little they know about Australia.

This morning as I was walking through our foyer the door man and maintenance man were having a heated conversation. Arms were flapping like a bird, hand gestures being used, and voices were raised; I could not tell if they were arguing or just being passionate. Walking straight into the line of conversation I was asked (in broken English) to help prove a point. "In Australia, do we know any Italian artists?" This was followed by a quick list of names, that as far as I was concerned could of been a list of car parts or names of medications. It was all foreign to me, Italians speak faster with excitement. So my response was "no, apart from the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo." I had just given victory to the maintenance man. "But you know Abba? Momma Mia?" I reply yes, and now apparently victory goes to the door man. I leave confused as to what sort of artist we are talking about, and comment over my shoulder that Abba sing in English. Were they claiming Abba as their own because they just had a season of Momma Mia the Musical in Milan?

Italy uses English words in songs, billboards, and slogans everywhere; yet the majority of the population do not speak the English language. The lovely staff at the gym I attend speak very little English, although they sing along happily to the English songs pumping out of the music speakers. Do they even know what they are saying? Perhaps listening to Italian music will fast track my language learning.

So this, the year of 'Comedy and Comprehension', I vow to learn at least fifty new words a week, and to understand the Italian secret language of hand gestures.

IF Important Fact - Packaging on products often have instructions in Italian, French, German, oh and Great Brittan. I think that is what they are calling the English language here.

Another IF - If you tell a man that you "Vorrei sparare una..." and point to a CD player, you are actually telling him, "I want to shoot it" not "I want to buy it". No wonder the customer service was bad. New word learned. New lessoned learnt don't yell 'sparare' in the street.

1 comment:

  1. Hahahaha
    But you should know that the Mama Mia they had in the theatre here had all the words translated into Italian - even the songs! Try watching the Italian version of The Sound of Music - everything (again even the songs) dubbed with Italian - it's just not right, really.

    .......and English DID originate from England which people do get very confused with Great Britain :-)