My year or so of self-study Italian is paying off. We’re in Genova, Italy, and I’m surprised at how well I’ve done.

Now, those 7 of you who read my blog already know that I can be…well, anal precise and demanding of perfection. So learning a third language – after pretty much mastering fluency in French through high school and college and weakly succeeding with Spanish – wasn’t something I went into lightly. Especially once I knew I’d actually get a chance to use it.

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The Intricacies of Language Learning

Imagine being a baby again. But having complex adult thoughts. That’s what it’s like to learn a new language. You know what you want to say (and it’s not “that’s good. That’s good.”) but don’t have the tools to say it. So you talk like a baby. That’s me in Italian.

But I don’t like to talk like a baby. I like to talk like a sophisticated European. Only I’m not. So I’ve had to be okay with that. I had to accept that I am an American tourist, and my vocabulary is limited. So I’m here, being okay with that.

Obama! Yay!

Even though Genova isn’t a major tourist city, there are several people we’ve met who speak English, which makes the whole “I don’t speak your language” situation a bit easier.  Especially when you’re acting as translator for two other people (Mom and her friend).

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I’m pleased as punch that I’ve managed to:

  • Order 2 meals (wine included)
  • Ask where to buy bus tickets
  • Buy my mother an ankle brace at a pharmacy (more on that in a minute)

When we ordered our evening gelato, the man asked where we were from. We said the US, and his reaction? “Obama! Yay!” What a weird thing for an Italian to say. I have no idea why he’d be all about Obama, but okay!

May I Measure Your Ankle?

So my mom twisted her ankle on an uneven cobblestone street, and I went to a pharmacy to get her an ankle brace. I thought I lucked out from having to explain what I needed when I saw the product on the shelf. But no.

The pharmacist said something rapidly.

Uh…parla inglese?

Not really.

I got the gist: this was a size 1. Did I need a size 1? Because you need to measure the ankle.

Well, my mom’s ankle is pretty small, so I’m sure it’ll be okay.

But you must measure it!

I hold up my ankle as an example of hers. Not good enough. He grabs his measuring tape (obviously for that purpose) and comes around the counter. And – wait for it – measures my ankle.

Aha! You need a size 3!

Okay. I need a size 3.

We don’t have one.

#%^$##

Then I convey that I’d like a wrap instead (rapid motion of my hands around my wrist). Ah, okay.

I ended up with gauze wrap, which wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but damn, he tried so hard. Mom was happy, and we all had a good laugh.