The discomfort of strangers

On three separate occasions yesterday, random Italians talked to me in the street. Yikes!

Firstly, I’m baffled by this as I doubt I pass for Italian. I may be slightly more moro (dark, of skin and hair) than the average Caucasian Brit, but surely my style and manner is foreign. When we were talking about national stereotypes in a class, the things that came up for English and British* were: sciatti e sporchi (scruffy and dirty) and i denti brutti (you know, like Austin Powers)!

Secondly, though, these situations always catch me by surprise. Walking around I’m often mulling things over in Italian in my head, playing out conversational scenarios or whatever. Which, counter intuitively, means I really struggle when someone actually talks to me in real Italian. In the real world.

On the first occasion, I was going down some ridiculous steps near where we live (the top part is all made from slightly wobbly scaffolding, and would seem to be temporary were it not for the fact that it’s so weathered and there’s such a massive build-up of trash below. The bottom part is a huge, grand bit of 19th century construction. Go figure.). I was asked directions, and managed to fumble a reply in semi-Italian. Afterwards I was annoyed with myself for not getting my agreements right – I said l’altro scale, when it probably, maybe should have been le altre scale (the other steps). Ooops.

On the second occasion, I was taking a picture of this poster. (Note the apposite advert below.)

I believe it’s saying the junta of Renata Polverini (pres of Lazio) are using Villa Adriana, aka Hadrian’s Villa, in Tivoli, as a dump, or planning to. But don’t quote me on that. I tried to ask my teacher to explain, but I couldn’t quite follow her reply. This is the story I think, if you can actually read Italian. Anyway, some smart-looking chap started ranting and doing the classic hand gesture as he walked past me. I couldn’t tell if he was saying it was bullshit or it was a disgrace. Gah.

On the third occasion, I was musing while I walked through the artisan backstreets near Campo di Fiori and another chap said something to me. Given the context, he was either asking the time, asking for a light, or propositioning me. Annoyingly, in this case, I knew the words, almost, but just misheard. It sounded like avere scendere – “to have” “to descend”. Of course he was saying avere accendere or some variation thereof, with accendere being the verb “to light”. Which I only really grasped last thing at night when I quizzed Fran. D’oh!

Still, one and a quarter-ish out of three ain’t so bad.


* Many Italians appear to use the two interchangeably, which annoys me no end, and is certainly deeply offensive to the Welsh and Scots, but that’s another story.


Filed under Main thread, Rome

5 responses to “The discomfort of strangers

  1. pmde

    *The English/British thing isn’t restricted to the Italians; the Americans are similarly confused. I go out of my way to say I am from the UK, which seems to confuse. In New England, as youngster asked me which State I was from.

    • Daniel

      Yes, I’ve experienced it in alls sorts of places. Years ago in Pakistan I said I was British and the guy had never even heard of it. That’s especially odd in a place that in many ways came into existence in the aftermath of the British Empire.

  2. pmde

    PS sounds like the Italian is coming on

  3. Fran the wife

    sei bravo! e bello come un italiano

    i can’t do agreements either but I am past caring. parla! parla!

  4. It’s usually “accendino”; a little lighter.

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