Learning to Speak Italian


We walked past many ruins while in Rome. The entire city felt so historical that we felt compelled to take a photo of everything!

First off, apologies for my absence from Urbyville stories. You may have noticed, and if you didn’t, it won’t bother me and I’ll most likely never know, that Matt has written most of the latest Urbyville content. Since March 18th, to be exact! While we both equally enjoy writing stories about our adventures, I was quite under the weather this past week. A self-diagnosed case of strep throat left me in bed, whining about a sore throat, body aches and swollen lymph nodes. I’m glad to say I’m nearly back to full capacity and ready to explore Europe beyond this fabulous apartment here in Naples, Italy.

That being said, though I was sick this past week, I was still able to experience a bit of Italy, and already noticed so many things about the culture and way of life that are strikingly different from any norms I’ve ever experienced. I call it learning to “speak” Italian, both the verbal and non-verbal way. Here are a few of those observances:

So similar, yet so different

We just finished learning Spanish in Guatemala for 6 weeks, and what better a country to visit than, er, Italy, where they don’t speak Spanish! I know, it doesn’t make complete sense, and it exemplifies our randomness in traveling where opportunities arise, but so far, it’s not too bad. The languages of Spanish and Italian are similar in the sense that they are both Romance languages, with many words being incredibly similar despite vowel changes and a pronunciation difference. Because of those similarities, we’ve been able to read Italian with some success, but speaking Italian has been nearly impossible. I can’t understand a lick of a conversation or sentence because the pronunciation of words and rhythm of speech is so different, so I’m back to the dumbfounded looks and constant explanations in the few Italian words I know of, “I don’t speak Italian, but I speak English and Spanish,” always inserting a smile and a shot of hope in the word Spanish in case they speak that. Sometimes we can’t help it and the Spanish words come out of our mouths, and we stand there hoping that the words are similar enough that they understand us, yet not so different that the words are somehow offensive in Italian. It’s a fine line to walk, and while we’re doing our best to learn as many Italian words and phrases as we can, it’s never a quick process.

Hand gestures and body language – The Italian way

Who knew the hands and shoulders could convey so much meaning? Apparently the Italians already knew that, as they are bilingual in Italian and Body Language Italian through the use of their hands and shoulders. I can’t completely convey this language in writing, as a visual would certainly be better, but let’s just say there are many meanings conveyed in hand gestures, whether the hands are near the mouth, near the chest, open-handed, closed with all the fingertips touching to form a sort of samosa of the hand, palms up, palms down…the list goes on and I probably haven’t seen even half of them. Then the Italians bring in the shoulders, more often than not the shrug of the shoulders, palms up, as if to say, “What, I didn’t do anything?”, or if in a car, “Eh, come on, what are you doing?” Oftentimes, you don’t even have to know what an Italian is saying if you just watch their hands and shoulders, as that will tell you nearly all you need to know.

Italians know Good Food

While some parts of Naples and Pozzuoli (the town we’re staying in that is just North of the city by a couple miles) are less than desirable, such as the alarming amount of free-floating garbage and dog poop in the streets, other parts of Italy have been unexpectedly fabulous. For people who know us, Matt loves to cook and I love to eat his cooking. Well, we have come to the right place. Naples is known as the birthplace of pizza, and with pizza comes great toppings, such as basil, cheese, veggies, and sauces. We have found that some of our favorite foods are also the most local, cheap foods in the stores. For example, a liter of olive oil cost us $3.00, a jar of pesto is about $2.00, a pound of tomatoes is $1.00, freshly baked bread loaves are under $1.00, pasta (yep, Barilla brand) is all less than $1.00, a big hunk of fresh cheese like romano is less than $3.00, and our favorite, gelato, is not only aplenty in local shops but is also about $2.25 for a half-gallon! Lastly, we asked the produce guy for a kilo (about 2 pounds) of eggplant, and we got 8 eggplants for about $2.25! The list goes on of cheap produce that’s local, fresh, and filling up our plates right now.

Driving – don’t we all think we’re the best at it?

Thankfully we don’t have to experience driving in Italy first hand, but I’m not so sure being a passenger is any better. It just means we get to see all the near-death experiences heading our way. We’ve had the pleasure of driving with our friend who lives here, and he’s originally a New Yorker. Put a New York driver in a place like Italy, where driving is more of an interpretation of the rules than any abidance by the rules, and it gets very scary. The drivers here, and at least it’s done across the board, never signal, oftentimes don’t stop at stop signs or traffic signals, change lanes without any notice or reason, and usually sit in the middle of two lanes without ever making a decision of which lane they’d like to be in. Just to make it even more interesting, the roads are narrow, and though the cars are teeny tiny, there’s not much breathing room between them, and I imagine many-a-side view mirror has been lost on parked cars along the street or cars passing each other going the other way. Even as a pedestrian or a runner on the sidewalk, the driving is scary and we recognize that in this country, even pedestrians are on the defense with the cars. And we’re not even on the roads! While driving, one sees many hand and shoulder “speak” between drivers as people cut others off, block with street with temporary parking, or just honk incessantly until they get their way.

So far, that sums up my Italian experience. It’s a little biased because much of this week was spent in bed, in the apartment, or walking back and forth between the grocery store and the apartment. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Italy and Europe in the weeks to come.

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.