Early Adventures in Italian

Early Adventures in Italian

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Sometimes making errors in a language is a good way to learn words. If I use a word incorrectly then I have found that I learn both the correct word and the wrong word quite well – it really sticks in my mind. On one of my first trips to Italy when I knew very little italian I once stopped at a gelateria (ice cream shop) and asked for some gelato di fagioli (bean). The server calmly suggested that maybe I really wanted some gelato della fragola (strawberry). That made it pretty easy to remember those two words forever. So what’ll it be – i  fagioi –

or le fragole ——————–

A couple of years later I spent a month in Rome attending a language school. During the morning break almost all of the students went to Gianni’s bar around the corner for coffee or hot chocolate and maybe a pastry. It was a small place that catered both to the neighborhood and of course the language school. I asked for un cappucino and a cornuto. Gianni was both the proprietor and the server. He just looked at me and patiently wagged his finger back and forth and said “ no, e’ cornetto”. “Cornuto” means cuckold and cornetto is really the same things as a french croissant. There is a hand gesture for this that looks like the same gesture used here in rock concerts. It is not a good thing to make this gesture to an Italian man!

I was in Rome that time during December. I had wrangled a month off from work by saving vacation and prevailed upon my boss to take a month and that was the only time, for business reasons, that I could go. Early in December I found that despite the image of sunny Italy it was COLD in Rome. Puddles were freezing in the streets overnight. Add to that the fact that either energy costs were high or the landlord of the apartment was very cheap (probably both), there was not too much heat and I was freezing. So I decided to buy some long underwear. In the U.S. where would you go to buy long underwear? I would go to a sporting good shop where skiers would buy warm things for play in the snow. Well, not in Italy. I was directed to an intimi (underwear) shop. In Italy separate underwear shops are not just for women’s lingerie but for all forms of underwear. There was no self-service and probably still is not so it was quite an adventure in sign language to describe to the woman behind the counter what I wanted. So I will forever remember the name for underwear (mutande) and long underwear (mutandone -i.e. big underwear). Such is the fun and the practicality of learning a language in the country where it is spoken. I did a search for an image of mutandone and happened across the one below on a blog by someone by the name of Rachel Simpson. It seemed particularly apt. Her blog is called “Daily Pep Talk From a Best Friend” and you can find it here.

I’d love to hear about language adventures and misadventures that others may have had.

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