Jun 23

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The Day I Spoke Italian

Truthfully, I’ve spoken Italian on more than one day, but this particular episode came to mind as a direct consequence of an exchange with another writer regarding languages..

It all stems from the time that I worked for a company that sent me to various locations around the globe to install and service their equipment.  On perhaps my second trip to Italy, my boss discovered that I was speaking Italian while I was there.  Now you have to understand him.  He is a good person, overall, and at that time was volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.  Unfortunately, he is pathologically anal on several points.

He pulled me aside one day and chastised me, “Don’t speak Italian to them.  It’s embarrassing to you and the company.”

Naturally, I ignored him, because I knew better.  I certainly wasn’t embarrassed, and  I’d already had several Italians tell me how much they appreciated my making the attempt to speak their language because virtually all Americans are assholes who think everyone in the world should speak English.  They adored me for not being like the rest, and it’s rare enough that I’m adored that I couldn’t help but notice.

Then came the day when I was working with said boss in a mill in Weirton, West Virginia.  He had to speak with someone in Italy.  I don’t remember his name now, but for the sake of this narrative, let’s pretend it was Giovanni Bracco.  I listened in.

“Hello.  Is Giovanni Bracco there?  I need to speak to Giovanni Bracco.   Giovanni Bracco!”

After several minutes of accomplishing nothing, in a maelstrom of rising frustration, he handed me the phone and said, “Can you speak Italian to them?”

My end of the conversation went like, “Buon giorno.  Ce Signore Bracco?  Si.  Due ore?  Si.  Va bene.  Molte grazie.  Ciao.”

I handed the phone back.  “He’s out to lunch.  He’ll be back in two hours.”

He never said a thing about my speaking Italian again, but neither did he ever apologize.


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