When it comes to learning a new language, no one wants to make a complete fool of him or herself and knowing only a handful of Italian words makes one not only feel small, but ripe for making a ton of gaffes and blunders. I started to speak Italian knowing only seven words: pizza, spaghetti, lasagna, vino, caffè, dolce and grazie – I used the first six of these words to order food and drink and the last to thank people for the massive amounts of food and drink I heartily consumed.
As I began to speak more, I quickly realized that I had a tin ear for languages. So, I had to ask myself can a middle-aged someone with a tin ear learn Italian? Eventually, I discovered the answer: assolutamente, but learning enough to butcher the Italian language wouldn’t happen anytime soon and thus began a twenty plus year journey to speak the blessed language.
Things started well enough: I quickly learned to introduce myself, ask simple directions, make reservations and order food, not realizing how important these acts would be to the learning process. But soon, the little errors would creep in: I constantly asked our kindly fruit and vegetables ladies for fish (pesce) when I wanted a peach (pesca). I told hundreds of Italians that I was a papa, rather than a papà. How was I to know that without the accent mark over the final a I was announcing my ascension to the papal throne. You can just call me Pope Bob or, better yet, Pope Roberto.
I soon learned that the more I spoke, the more errors I made.
Donald, my husband and I went to a little osteria in the stunning hill town of Barga about an hour outside Lucca. Trying to build on my courage, I said, “Buongiorno” to the approaching waiter; then added, “è un bel giorno.” “Sì, è un bel giorno,” he replied. Thrilled at my accomplishment, I then ordered a plate of cane, which unfortunately meant dog, rather than the delicious looking meat (carne) that I had seen the man at the next table enjoying.
I should have been content making one gaffe after another, because before long I graduated to full fledged blunders.
Donald and I were standing in the macelleria on Via Santa Croce. I noticed a sign on the butcher’s wall advertising an upcoming concert. I wanted to note the details, so I asked Donald if he had a pen. “No,” he said. I turned to the butcher and said loudly, “Posso usare la tua pene?”
Donald nudged me with his elbow. “What are you doing?” “Nothing,” I said a bit too hastily. Donald raised his eyebrows in the direction of the butcher. Without turning, I could see out of the corner of my eye the butcher looking at me. His gaze was intense. I hoped that he was just waiting to get my attention before handing me what I’d asked for. Donald whispered to me, “You just asked the butcher if you could use his penis.”
“I did not!” But as the butcher continued to gape I knew that, yes indeed, I had just asked him for something that wasn’t for sale in the meat department.
NOT FOR SALE!!!
Making gaffes and blunders is part of the learning process. You will learn that Italians are very forgiving – they like it that you attempt to speak their language. So, by kicking off Roberto’s Italian Blog with Italian Gaffes, Blunders and Bloopers, you can put your fears to rest. You too will make gaffes and blunders and you’ll learn to love em as you claw your way towards becoming somewhat proficient speaking Italiano.