Sunday, December 8, 2013

Italian: friends and language

Living in a small town in Umbria has its delights as well as challenges. One of the delights is the making of Italian friends.  I know many Americans have struggled with this, but I think it is a language problem more than Italians being closed off to Americans.  In my small town, the people here are very curious about the United States.  I will talk about something, like Thanksgiving, and they will get a far away look in their eyes and say, oh, yes, I saw that on t.v.  It is strange to have one's life reduced to a TV show, kind of like that movie with Peter Sellers, "Being There." The America that the Italians know is in the same idealized world that exists for Americans who come to Italy as tourists. As we say constantly these days, "strano" srtange.

What is not strange is the make up of the character of people I have met in Umbertide.  They are generous with everything but money and I think they would be generous with that if they had more of it. One of the store owners in town asked us to a party last night.  She said that there would be snacks and things to drink.  As in many things here, we had no idea what was going on.  The apartment was in our old building on the first floor.  I had never been inside.  It was amazing once I stepped through the doors.  Much bigger than I had expected.  At one time it had been a club for gambling I think.  Anyway, the new owner (who had been in litigation over the ownership of the apartment for 35 years(!) was celebrating the fact that he now owned the place.  The food, such a wide assortment, was wonderful.  People were friendly, happy, dancing. The music was so loud, we couldn't stay.  It was impossible to hear anything.

Before the party I had the English class that Joseph and I teach for anyone who shows up.  He took the beginning group and I took the more advanced group. One of the exercises was to put in order a paragraph about going through a fast food drive through.  They struggled a bit, which I thought was strange since they had easily done more complicated work.  It suddenly occurred to me to ask, "Have any of you ever gone through a drive through for food?"  No, they shyly answered.  There is a McDonals's in Perugia but that is the only one in our region of Umbria.  Never having gone through a drive through for food, they really didn't know the sequence of ordering.  Oh, my.  Cultural differences.

On the way out of the lesson, my good friend Manuele stopped me to tell me he had a surprise for me.  While I was in class, he had his workers paint the top floor of the building of our old apartment.  I was so happy!  It had been bothering me for 3 years, but I didn't know how to get it done.  It seemed so complicated.  I don't own the space.  There is a skylight that is way up at the top and filthy.  Everytime I came into the apartment I would get mad just looking at it. I asked Manuele about it in the morning, and by the evening it was done!  Painted and cleaned up. He didn't ask any one about it, he just did it. Having Italian friends is vital to the existence here.  Making them may be difficult but it is more than worth the effort.

So now about the language.  There are some very funny things about the Italian language.  One is there no special verb for "owe". They use "I ought" to pay you which really is quite different than the English understanding of the word to owe.  Next results is a verb as well as a noun in Italian.  The significance of this goes without saying.  For me I am very happy with the "results" of the corridor being painted. Hurray.  A Christmas Miracle. I said this to Manuele, and he said, yes, like the movie Miracle on 34th street….right…..

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