Monday, March 16, 2009

Who Are The Foreigners?

Bryan and I were able to sit on the other side of the table (metaphorically speaking) last week when we made a trip to the Motherland. We hadn't been to my ancestral village for a while, and my cousin was anxious for us to come for a Sunday pranzo.

We had a nice visit and a nice meal (always yummy down there). Following the feast, we sat at the restaurant urgently trying to fend off Michele's unyielding insistence of "grappa, more wine, just a little more dessert..." when a group of ten arrived. They exchanged customary buongiornos, milled about deciding which table in the nearly-empty restaurant to occupy, and started inquiring about local specialties. Obviously not locals. Even if their ignorance of the food hadn’t clued me in, the fact that they weren't acquainted with with my cousin sealed it. He is the only cop in a town of 2,000 souls and everyone knows him.

Turisti, qui?” I asked Melina. They don’t get a lot of out-of-towners, especially in the winter. But apparently a small, nearby ski slope attracts day-trippers from surrounding regions. “Pugliese,” she said matter-of-factly. After listening to them talk a few more minutes, she stated, “Yep, from Bari.” She pegged their accents. I, sadly, still cannot distinguish regional accents. I can often make out that they *have* an accent, but don’t know one region’s speech patterns from another’s.

One of the guys approached the table to ask where, specifically, they were. The one he chose to address his question to, as apparently looking the most knowing, was Bryan. Much to the glee of everyone else, since Bryan quickly informed the guy to ask the others, as he, being American, couldn’t give him the best advice on directions and road conditions. Word quickly reached the bar area in the neighboring room, and cackles of laughter filtered our direction.

As we walked through to leave, the barista slapped Bryan on the back, still snickering, muttering something about Baresi not being able finding their way out of a paper sack and then asking the only americano within a 100-mile radius for directions. As we left we heard the barista passing the word on to a newcomer, with fragments of the "stranieri" being addressed...towards the Baresi.

I felt a little bad for them; they seemed nice enough folks. But I have to admit, it was also nice to be sitting on the other side of the table for a change, to be the ones *in* on the joke instead of the objects of the jokes and speculations for a change. For this day, at least, the foreigners weren't us.


Lost in Sicily said...

I love this post! Gave me a belly laugh and how great for you to be on the right side of the joke!

carol in dc said...

Hilarious post Valerie!!! On occasion, we've had similar experiences, and yes, it does make you feel like you've conquered some invisible barrier. Bravo!!

Beatriz Macias said...

Funny! I have been stopped for directions too, it is a challenge to say the least! I guess we get a good laugh out of it, don't we?

Valerie Schneider said...

Siciliana - Thanks! Glad to provide a laugh...and yes, it was a nice change. ;)

Carol - I can imagine you've experienced it, too. It really was quite funny.

Beatriz - Can't you always detect that look of 'oh no, what have I done?' as soon as they find out you're not a native local? Funny, though.

J.Doe said...

Having been a foreigner in Italy for 4 years myself I find this story to be disturbing. Since you have been treated as foreigners before who 'can't find there way out of a paper bag' I wish you did more to defend the Barese.
P.S. Just because Bryan is American doesn't automatically mean that he doesn't know directions either so you weren't exactly on 'the other side' about making jokes about foreigners either

Valerie said...

J. - I think that was the irony I was hinting at, that Bryan was the real foreigner and so we weren't truly on the "other side" but were able to see how we are often perceived and talked about, but this time from the other perspective. The Baresi weren't aware it was happening, as there were ten of them all talking at the same time and we had all moved to the coffee bar, in another room. For us it was humorous because, in this particular instance we were considered 'less foreign' than a group of Italians. Again, it was just a touch of irony.

Saretta said...

I'm always amazed when people stop me for directions or to ask my opinion in the supermarket, etc. because I look so obviously foreign here in Bari!

Oh, btw, I've lived in Italy for 16 years and can't identify regional accents, either so don't feel so bad!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I too am amazed when Italians ask me for directions.

It happens to me all the time now.

I get why Americans and other tourists would ask but trust me I do not look Italian at all. haha

Valerie said...

Saretta and Ragazza - Y'all must look like you know your way around! I'm also happy to know that I'm not the only one who can't discern the accents. That makes me feel better :)