This is one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in Italy
Slocum presents some of his personal experiences in learning Italian. It's a great read.
Before traveling, especially to learn Italian in Italy, I was warned to not be the ugly American tourist. We must be sensitive and respectful. We must be open and understanding. We must not wear leisure suits and track shoes. I pride myself on my cultural sensitivity, which is probably why I was so traumatized when, during one of my first outings while I went to learn Italian, a fruit monger accused me of calling him a communist.
It was the first time for me to attempt to learn Italian and even experience the culture in depth. I soon discovered that buying fruit in Italy is an art. Fruit is beautifully displayed in baskets and stands, to be admired but never touched by the hands of the passing consumer. Picking up an apple for inspection in Italy is considered an act of aggression, one for which I was properly chastised repeatedly. Quickly I learned: ask for what you want, and the fruit monger, whose experience and knowledge of grape clusters is vastly superior to your own, will select exactly the right cluster to suit your needs.
Such a custom would never have occurred to me. In the US, you inspect each piece of fruit carefully, using techniques your grandmother taught you to make sure your melon is really ripe, your plums are not bruised, and your apple is crisp. But sure enough, this is what I experienced as I went to learn Italian abroad.
While I was packing and getting ready for my trip with the objective to learn Italian, my mother sat on my bed. She told me about traveling around France and Italy on the back of a motorcycle, stopping at markets to buy bread, cheese and blood oranges for impromptu picnics; she had also gone to Italy with the objective to learn Italian. My ears perked up at the mention of the blood orange-even its name sounded exotic and decadent. This was in the days before yuppie grocery stores sold goods from around the world, and in our neck of the woods, even the kiwi was still regarded as a novelty.
So, in Siena, with a few hours to spare after my first day of class to learn Italian, I wandered around the market, looking for my first taste of Europe. I had memorized that useful phrase, "I would like..." I have found that this phrase and a strong index finger are all the communication tools you need for basic survival until you learn Italian. Unless you are picky. Unless you want something specific-not just any orange, for example, but a dark red, sweet, tangy blood orange.
I found a charming fruit market and greeted the monger, a graying old man with a wizened face and sharp, appraising eyes. It dawned on me that I was not ready for this first transaction after having had only one day to learn Italian! I hadn't the slightest idea how to say "blood orange" in Italian. I tried a few variations-"orange of blood" brought looks of disgust and confusion. "Special orange" brought a torrent of language, none of which I understood since I had just started to learn Italian. I settled on "red orange, you know? Red, red!". Here is where I noticed that my trip to learn Italian in Italy would have to be recurring in order for me to be able to at least communicate an idea.
My fruit monger gave up. He was a patient man, a fair man, but I now had clearly gone too far. This young, impudent man not only touched his fruit, but insulted his character. "Non sono comunista!" he bellowed. He had a lot more to say, but to the untrained American ear, it sounded rather like, solononoglionomabuonomiaabonlagliono. Using my only other phrase of Italian-"excuse me!" I scooted away as quickly as I could, the entire market staring at me curiously; the American tourist trying to learn Italian in Italy. Later, nursing a latte and my bruised self-esteem, I was able to make the connection: red meant communist. All those words of warning had done no good: even without a leisure suit, I was still that ugly American tourist.
It was several more weeks before I mastered the art of buying fruit in Italy, and finally tasted a blood orange. Buying that piece of fruit was now more than honoring one of my mother's sappy memories, but a triumph of international commerce. It was delizioso! These are the times were you realize there is so much more to learn and I am so glad I came to learn Italian. Insistence makes perfection so I will be returning to Italy to learn Italian soon.
About the Author:
Enjoy a free Spanish Phrase ebook: http://www.amerispan.com/spdownload - This 30-pager is great if you quickly want to learn Spanish phrases for travel. John Slocum is the president of AmeriSpan, a leader in immersion language programs and study abroad since 1993. 85 cities, 35 countries. 25,000 past participants. http://www.amerispan.com.