Whenever I step outside the apartment doors, I ask myself, “What are the words I will use to greet an Italian?” I go through words and sounds in my head, typically starting with Spanish. Buenos dias. No. Bueno. No. Buona sera. Nope, it’s morning. Buon; bon-something. Ah, Buongiorno! That’s the word! As I walk to class, I repeat over and over in my head, “buongiorno. Buongiorno,” yet when I see a local, I simply nod.
I find myself going through that thought process every time anyone speaks to me, or I am planning to speak to someone. I am so uncomfortable with my Italian that Spanish words come out of my mouth. A year ago, I was in Cali, Colombia, with Gonzaga’s ORGL program, and couldn’t come up with any Spanish other than hola, gracias, and some menu items. I have no idea where these Spanish words are coming from – as far as I know, they don’t exist in my head (at least not when I need them!).
To say I am uncomfortable with languages would be an understatement. I knew, going in, that I would be expected to speak to the locals in their native tongue, and I studied before I arrived, but all my studying has left my head. It’s probably somewhere on Turkish Air Flight 7299.
I know that before I leave here, I’ll have at least some competence with a few words and phrases, and my classmates speaking words and short phrases helps me. I hope I don’t become that classmate who the others baby along, speaking for me whenever I encounter a local. I want to be able to carry on a rudimentary conversation, and find my way around a train station when I return to Milan. I know it will come, but it’s slow, and my brain is resisting.