By Trina Otero
Ok, this is the “let’s keep it real” hour. I usually post positive, uplifting pieces, because, well, that’s just me. I know that I don’t really write about personal things on here, but I feel like this is a topic that MANY can and will understand. Learning another language.
I’m just going to get straight to the point. I’m in Italy right now. During dinner tonight I tried to practice my Italian by asking Nonna “what are you cooking?” [In Italian, duh.] Well, I made a mistake [of course], and an Italian man there decided to say, “You can be here three years and you will never learn nothing.” [Oh, by the way asshole, that’s a double negative which is a no-no in English grammar. Just saying!] He proceeded to say that he cannot believe I have been here in Italy for a short while and still do not know Italian. Ummm, since when do people magically learn a different language in less than three months?
Dude, I am the type of person who is always calm. Always understanding. I don’t yell or lose my cool now-a-days. Many of my friends can testify! But see….I will be honest….I had no patience for this man tonight, because this is not the first time he has said this ignorant statement to me. I ended up telling him with exaggerated hand gestures and a strong, firm voice that before now I was not able to communicate or live among Italians. And even now that I am living in a small village among locals, they don’t freaking talk to me! When I walk around I get the “Ciao,” but no one is eager to walk up to the foreign girl, who looks like a Romanian [kind of an inside joke, but it’s kinda true!], speaks English and Spanish, and dresses like a gypsy compared to the well-manicured Italian girls around here. Ok, ok, there are a few curious and kind people here, and some have tried to talk here or there [in Italian of course], but they are very short, and most only talk to me because my host’s daughter introduces me to people. Or because my new Greek Canadian friend [yeah, long story] introduces me to people. So, in conclusion, no — it is not easy to learn Italian. [Plus do you have any idea how many dialects there are in this country?! It’s confusing.] I think I am learning, and I think I am doing very well considering my circumstances. Thank God I have an 8-year-old who likes to hang out with me and speaks both English and Italian.
After my tactful, passionate comeback, I clenched my jaw and tried to keep my tears at bay. I momentarily failed so I got up and went to the bathroom to cry a little. Then I dried my face, waited for the redness in my skin to disappear, then walked back into the house. I sat in complete silence for the remainder of dinner, and observed as he made some more ignorant statements. I didn’t indulge in eating tonight like I normally do. I ate one small bowl of pasta, a small bowl of soup, and tried a fig, then I said to Nonna, “Nonna, grazie per la cena.” Then I turned to the man and asked him to translate for me and tell her that I have a lot of work to do and need to leave. He was surprised because I usually stick around for one or two hours after eating. Nah, I was done being around his energy. I knew I needed to get home, relax, and meditate.
To wrap this up, this wasn’t a post meant to vent and paint this village as an evil, ignorant batch of people [lol]. I honestly just want to give my account of how frustrating it can be to learn a language other than your native tongue. I have never had someone come to me and discourage me so bluntly before…but this definitely reminds me of all my friends from different countries and the stories they have shared. Some haven’t shared stories, but I bet they have some. And of course, my babies — my former students. I remembered comforting and encouraging them on a daily basis, because many of them were picked on for looking different, sounding different, and for not being fluent in English. Pobrecitos. It seems that ignorance, negativity, and bullying have no geographical borders nor a specific age group. So I’d like to tell all of you who are learning a foreign language right now that on behalf of all the ignorant people, I am sorry. Ignore them. Blow them off. You can do whatever you set your mind to! Capisce? [Or is it hai capito? Who knows…]