Turning Italian

Sasha Stoddard

I think I’m turning Italian. I don’t mean that I’ve developed that beautiful olive skin tone or curly hair, but I have begun to find myself picking up on all the little idiosyncrosies that the people here possess. And I love it.

For starters, I am now late for class every day. I just find it nearly impossible to walk out of the door on time. Even more different from my habits at home is the fact that I just don’t care that I’m going to be a little late. This isn’t such a bad thing, because here everyone – with exception of the foreigners – is late, even the teachers at my language school. Italians seem to take a different approach to time. This is very frustrating at first, especially for us Americans with our “go go go” approach to business, food and life in general. Soon enough though, you notice yourself slowing down. It doesn’t matter that the bus is late. It doesn’t matter that it took half an hour to get your order at dinner, or that you waited in line for fifteen minutes at the post office just to buy four stamps. No one gets stressed out about these things, they just shrug their shoulders and say “Va bene!” – which is basically the Italian equivalent of “It’s all good.” I have no idea how I’m going to adjust when I get home.

What? My letter got to you in three days? How did they get it there so fast? Or, What do you mean I’m fired? Relax! It’s only 9:15!

I’ve also noticed that I now have an insatiable craving for espresso all day. I must excuse myself at least twice a day and “prendo un caffe” or “take a coffee.” The great part about this is that the whole country seems to do the same thing. I even get a 20-minute break from class every day, according to school policy, to do just that. Also, all coffee is espresso. Don’t even try to look for drip coffee. I got excited the other day when I saw a package of American coffee at the grocery, until I realized that a tiny bag costs about seven euro. Even if you could afford that, you’d never find a machine in which to brew it. Besides, who would want to, when the espresso is so darn tasty and you can buy a six-pack of it for the same price? These people know what they’re doing when it comes to bean-roasting. They even have special unspoken rules when it comes to coffee drinking. If the blond hair didn’t give me away first as American, then ordering a cappuccino after noon definitely would. This is disgusting to most Italians. Milk after breakfast time? Mio Dio! Never! As a result of all the funny looks I got the first couple of weeks I was here, I now drink only shots of espresso in the afternoon. I stand at the bar, like all the locals, shoot my espresso, and then make room for the next person. I then say “thank you” and “good afternoon” to the proprieter – because not to do so is very rude – and make my exit.

English is a struggle for me now as well. Even as I’m writing this, I can feel the Italian language trying to worm its way into my sentences – not that I’m fluent in Italian. Not even close, actually. But it’s the only language I ever hear outside of my own apartment. So it’s no small wonder that I say “perche” instead of “because,” or “si” and not “yes” when I’m agreeing to something. My grammar is all messed up now, too. It’s no longer “let’s go,” it’s “we go.” It’s not “taking a shower,” it’s “making” one. And did you know that the adjective actually comes after the noun? I say “beans green” now without even realizing I’ve done it. I’m even starting to say certain English words with an Italian accent because that will make Italians understand me better, right? Just a note to the readers: Adding a vowel to the end of a word does not make said word Italian… well, not usually. Not that this stops me or my roommate from trying sometimes. The real surprise comes when it does work. All of this only upsets me when I’m talking with friends from home and they don’t know what the heck I’m saying, or I’m trying to write an article and I realize that I can’t spell anymore. Italian is a very phonetic language.

What’s this “ph” buisness? Don’t you mean to use an “f”?

Even if I don’t have five brothers or at least three male cousins named Gino, I have definitely absorbed some of this culture. So, if you ever get the chance to spend at least a month in Italy, watch for these signs that you’ve had a transfusion of a little Italian blood:

-You wear dark sunglasses… everywhere… even when it’s cloudy.

-Boots are an everyday accessory.

-You stand no more than two inches from the person in front of you in every queue – that’s a line here.

-You’re not hungry for dinner until at least 8:30.

-You ask people how many years they have, rather than how old they are.

-If a meeting starts less than 5 minutes late, you wonder why everyone is in such a hurry.

-You give the cashier a strange look if they place your change directly into your hand and not on the counter.

-You have an insatiable craving for Parmesean cheese on everything… except fish, because that’s disgusting.

-A bus nearly ramming into another while you’re on it doesn’t make you bat an eye.

-It takes at least two hours and three courses for lunch or dinner, and you eat all of it then ask for the dessert menu.

-Drinking half a liter of wine before noon seems normal.

And finally,

-You never say goodbye to friends without kissing them on both cheeks. Yes, this means you, too,

boys.

I will apologize ahead of time for the “Italianisms” I can’t shake when I get home, though it wouldn’t be such a bad thing for other Americans to adopt some of them. You may find yourself with a much more relaxed outlook on life.

Ciao, y’all.