Keep in mind that I am writing this on Wednesday and I moved here on Saturday. I have had very few social interactions but in just a few short days my husband and I have experienced this same phenomenon on several occasions. I am calling it “the awkward moment.”
Here is how it typically goes: An Italian speaking local approaches you thinking that you understand the language. The person begins a swiftly spoken monologue that, even after living here and learning the language for years, I doubt I will ever be quick enough to understand. As they speak my body feels as though rigor mortis is kicking in and I slowly become paralyzed. As the local continues to speak I can feel my eyes glaze over trying to process any word or phrase that might make the whole thing make sense. Then I see it in their face…the moment they realize that they have just wasted excessive amounts of breath on a confused American. Then there is the awkward shuffle of phrases, “Lo non parlo italiano” “Mi scusi” “Mi dispiace” “Va bene” “Grazie” “Prego”.
This is the majority of social interactions and I have quickly decided that I must learn the language. These lovely people do appreciate when you try to say a few phrases in Italian. You can see in their face that you have succeeded even when you are using broken phrases in a poor accent.
I have had three interactions that have stood out to me. One with the poor woman at IKEA who seemed to be in need of advice on a rug she was picking out. This was my first attempt at using any Italian that I had practiced using the Duolingo App. In that moment I forgot everything I had practiced and I just stared at her blankly until that awkward moment where she realized that I understood nothing. She simply smiled and walked away.
The second was with a man that I hope was in charge of maintenance to our building. He came to the door as I was waking up from a nap. Not a single word he said sounded familiar to me. He seemed to want to come inside and he had a large bag with him….I assumed he was here to work on something in our house. Luckily he was and I was able to use the word “Grazie” to thank him for his work. It wasn’t until later that night that my husband pointed out that I could have been letting a killer in to our home with a large bag of tools that would help him dispose of the body.
The third interaction that I had was with a spunky café waitress. She must have known that we spoke English right away and she chose to speak in English to make us more comfortable. I tried to use a few phrases I had learned to order a cappuccino. I went to thank her and say “Buona giornata” and she LAUGHED! She then came around the counter and proceeded to teach me the correct pronunciation. Later, I was writing in my journal as I sat and drank my coffee. The same waitress came up and started teaching me more phrases. She spoke slowly and had me copy each sound. Then she reached for my phone! She quickly logged on to my Facebook account and added herself as a friend. She told us that if we had any questions or wanted to practice, my husband and I could message her.
I think we made our first friend!