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Monday, June 7, 2010

Bluffing in Italian

I bluff a lot when I'm trying to speak a language that I don't know very well. I resist speaking English and I'm not afraid to make a fool of myself as I plunge right in; getting around, ordering in restaurants, and asking directions in Italian, peppered with liberal doses of "mi scuzi" (excuse me), "per favore" (please) and "grazie" (thank you). I have a good ear for pronunciation and intonation and when asking a question, even if not grammatically perfect, I usually get rapid and detailed answers. It drives fellow travelers crazy because I often get away with it.

I sat down for lunch in a trattoria yesterday, ordered the special of the day and a glass of wine and was served rapidly. I noticed the English couple sitting at the table next to me eyeing my dish as they searched through their Italian phrasebook. I also noted that they tried three times to order another glass of wine and were grumbling about being snubbed by their server. Finally, when the waiters were out of earshot, I broke into English and started up a conversation with them. "You're not Italian?" they gasped, and then realized that I must have overheard their lament over the dual standard of service. We went on to have an interesting conversation about traveling and languages and I realized that there are a couple of advantages to eating alone: a) I can use my limited Italian without resorting to English and b) I can, when I wish, strike up conversations with English speaking strangers.

Sometimes my bluff results in surprises. The other day I sat down to have a glass of white wine before dinner and was somewhat surprised to find a small plate of prosciutto and cheese delivered along with the wine. Had I ordered it? Apparently. So I ate it and enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I'm not sure exactly what the server said as she was taking my order, so I'm not sure how to order the same thing again.

Anyway, I like surprises and my limited knowledge of Italian is affording me plenty of opportunities to be surprised and delighted. Here is a picture of last night's surprise and delight: agnellotti alla rucola. Yumm!

p.s. I made an exception to my Italian-only rule when I forgot to stamp my train ticket before boarding the train for Ravenna. When the controller noticed the missing date stamp, usually subject to an expensive penalty, I responded in English - pleading ignorance as a poor tourist. The controller was understanding, and lectured me in excellent English regarding the law. I remembered to stamp my ticket for the return.

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