Sunday, May 18, 2008


Two years ago today we stepped off a plane in Fiumicino with jetlag and jitters. Two years! And to think we had initally planned for just a year of this adventure; no way would one year have been enough. Two years have passed and we've still barely skimmed the surface.

It has really taken us this long just to get comfortable with the language. As a sort of celebratory coincidence, I just happened to have finished reading my first actual, complete book in Italian, Io Non Ho Paura by Niccolo Ammaniti. Okay, I had previously read several of the short books in the Travels With Valentina series, in which a precocious kid named- you guessed it, Valentina- visits each and every region of the bel paese. She manages to hit every major sight, eat all the regional specialties, quote all the famous authors or poets and generally be so perfect as to be annoying. By the end of three such books I was muttering vafanculo Valentina under my breath.

Io Non Ho Paura was different. Not annoying; not a children's series. I'd watched the suspense movie based on this book about three years ago. The movie was so well done that the climax scene made me jump out of my seat. I enjoyed the book, and loved that I successfully read it all the way through without *too* many glances at the dictionary.

An even better occurrence gave me cause to celebrate, though. Last week we boarded a train bound for Bologna to find our assigned seats already occupied. The twenty-something girl with belongings scattered about had boarded at the previous stop and didn't want to budge, whining that the electrical outlet at her seat didn't work and she was watching a DVD. We shrugged and agreed that since other seats were currently available we'd let her be for now. We took seats across the aisle.

An hour later when the train stopped and filled up, others boarded who were assigned to the seats we'd be occupying. We rose and told the girl to return to her own seat now. She had finished the movie she had been watching and had popped in a cartoon. She started to whine again about the non-functioning outlet, she couldn't plug in her player, blah blah. I politely but firmly told her that since the seats were now all filled in our car we needed those to which we had been assigned. She didn't want to move and started to argue. I interrupted her and said, "Yeah, I understand, but it's not my problem. The car is full, and these people want to sit down. These are our seats; we've let you stay here to finish your movie but now you need to get up, gathering your belongings, and go back to your own seat." I said it all in Italian without hesitation and without getting flustered. When I finished my little speech, the lady sitting next to the girl nodded firmly in approval and immediately rose to let the girl out.

It felt good! I was finally able to express myself in response to a situation, immediately and in Italian without stumbling through or grunting out unconjugated verbs. Linguistic difficulties tend to submerge one's own personality to some degree; jovial jokings and firm demands can be hard to convey. Finally, I was able to say exactly what I wanted to, even tinged with a little edge of bitchy. Finally...a little more Valerie emerges through the fog of language learning! It felt damn good.

Two years; it has certainly taken me longer to reach this linguistic point than I had hoped but I'm getting there. Here's to Year Three!

At home in Ascoli Piceno. Piazza del Popolo at night.


erin said...

AUGURI!!! I'm sure the time has flown for you has for us in our time here, and although we'll be going to the States soon - we know we'll be back in the future.

I love the story about the train. It's so true that in the higher-emotional moments, it takes a bit more to get through it in Italian...but when you do, it feels so good!

Giancarlo & Emily said...

Congrats on two years! Your blog has been an inspiration for us an our adventures in Italy!

Beatriz' suitcase contents said...

Auguri! We will be celebrating our first year in June, and I am no-where near where I wanted to be, as far as my language skills go. It is so hard to communicate properly without stumbling into yet another word I do not know, etc... There is hope, I think, as my son is becoming my official "corrector" of all things Italian. Ah! to be young!

Jessica said...

congratulations, that is a big accomplishment! and a wonderful feeling, you've completely hit a new high with life when you can think interchangeably in two languages i think

bellavitaitalia said...

AUGURI (and I'm glad you put that girl in her place)! :)

Valerie said...

Erin, hope you'll be back very soon! Feeling competent instead of ignorant does feel good! ;)

Giancarlo & Emily, thanks; I'm glad it's been helpful for you. Hope to meet up with you sometime, especially since you're just up the road a bit.

Beatriz, isn't it amazing how easily you can get yourself "stuck" and searching for familiar vocabulary? Happens too often, I'm afraid.

Jessica, I'm sure you're very familiar with that feeling though I suspect your French is way better than my Italian these days. Congrats on the upcoming wedding!

Bella, thanks (so am I ;)

Texas Espresso said...

I think 2 years is pretty fast! that is awesome -there is hope for me yet. though I don't use it every day, Italian is not planting itself in my head very well. sigh


nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Wow congrats! I just moved to Italy (rome) last month. Not being fluent is so frustrating

Your story inspires me to keep trying.

Valerie said...

Texas, thanks for the encouragement; I was thinking I should be further along by now. My brain cells just don't want to fully absorb the language.

Ragazza, benvenuti! Glad you've made it over here at last! Not being able to say exactly what I want when I want to say it has been one of the bigger frustrations, Post Awful withstanding.