Sunday 22 September 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'I'll be ready for the Italian Stallion'

Lost in translation - you need the lingo for Italian cafes
Lost in translation - you need the lingo for Italian cafes
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

One of the various apps that tries to bully me into self-improvement is my free language app. I've been ignoring it lately and it has been sending me plaintive messages, like a demented ex. Those kind of "Have you forgotten me? Haven't seen you for a while". It's just short of ringing me and saying, "Oh sorry. Did you not ring me just there?"

The app is/was teaching me Italian. It was an effort at having a work-life balance and being a more rounded person. And it would be impressive too, wouldn't it? To be able to speak Italian? Would it not make a person slightly sexier?

Also, obviously, I'm planning to retire to one of those Italian villages where you can buy a house for a euro if you agree to do it up.

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But I'll be honest, my main reason for trying to learn a bit of Italian was the Italians themselves. I was never going to be reading Dante's Inferno in the original Tuscan dialect. But you know, it would be nice to be able to get by. Because if you're in Italy and you don't speak Italian, they're not really interested in you. You might be able to start a conversation in Italian and you can see them all interest and smiles, and then once it becomes clear you can't get beyond the initial bit, they change. Politeness turns to open disdain.

As if you weren't already feeling like a streelish Paddy next to the slick Italians, now you feel like a mumbling idiot too. And given that everything seems to be a competition between Italian men, they don't half lord it over you. You're on their territory and you didn't even have the manners to learn the language? No class, you British.

What makes it worse again is that while my wife isn't exactly fluent, she can comport herself reasonably well, and is getting better. So I am like this giant mute child next to her while she works things out with them.

Now, the Italian guys don't need an excuse to ignore the man and flirt with the woman right under the man's nose, practically laughing at you as they do it. But, of course, I'm giving them the perfect excuse. I'm pretty much inviting them to act as if I'm not there and speak only to my wife.

The women are as bad. They look at me pityingly when they realise I can't speak Italian. And then they look at my wife pityingly. Poor woman, married to this idiot. When they grasp the seemingly extraordinary fact that she can speak some Italian and I can't, they openly laugh, often with my wife, about me. And to make it worse I have to then ask my wife what they're saying. One woman in a cafe actually called over her friend to have a laugh as well. She pointed at me and then my wife and talked seemingly angrily and incessantly, as they do, and then they both had a good old laugh.

"What's she saying?" I asked my wife, ole Gina Lollobrigida herself. "Oh, she just says I speak Italian and you don't," she says. "So why did it take her three minutes of fast talking and all the laughing?" "Oh never mind," says my wife, now also tiring of her non-Italian-speaking buffoon.

An old guy we were asking directions from one day actually leaned into the car window to point and laugh at me.

The problem is that none of this ever happens until we go to Italy, and by then it's too late. While I'm in Italy, being humiliated, I vow to myself I am definitely going to be able to speak more Italian next year. But then I come home and like childbirth (not that I'd know), the pain is quickly forgotten.

Instead of sending me generic faux cheerful, passive-aggressive messages, the app needs to get more creative. It needs to say things like "Do you really want to be emasculated again next year? Do some Italian for 10 minutes". Or, "Think of the mocking eyes of that Italian Stallion as he chatted away to your wife, deliberately speaking Italian so you couldn't join in".

That's the motivation I need.

The sad thing is I can speak a certain amount of Italian, but when you are hit with a real-life, fast-talking situation, being able to say that the lady is eating, was eating and will eat the apple, suddenly it isn't much good.

But I'm determined this autumn to get down to it. It will be useless to me for 50 weeks of the year, but think how sweet it will be to feel like a real man for a week or two in Italy.

Maybe I'll be fluent by the time I retire.

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