Walk and talk like a Florentine
My four days in this city have been a blur of crooked cobblestone streets, new faces and names, and plenty of humidity. On the flight over I took a while to breathe slowly and mentally reinforce my intentions for the semester ahead (as specifically suggested by a close friend) and as sure as I was in the moments following that ritual, I now see that Firenze has some unforeseen, exciting plans for me.
While I have a number of personal goals for my time here, two new ones have recently arisen. One of which is to end up capable of holding a casual conversation in Italian. My lovely host mama, Maura, took my arm firmly on day one, looked me square in the eye, and said “you’re in my home and eating my food, I’ll need you to speak my language.” We shared a giggle over the intensity with which she was speaking, but I could tell there was no joke about her demand. To my affirmation, she’s not spoken a word of English since. She’s a six-days-a-week working, sweeter-than-gelato woman who trots around the flat with an air of confident nonchalance that I’ve not seen in any other woman her age (more on her in a future post perhaps). And as much as I’m floundering to communicate now, I know her insistence is a favor to me. I can already feel myself slowly pulling ahead of the other CAPA students when it comes to Italian vocab (the gringo accent is another story, but one step at a time). With some luck and many, many more conversations over dinner with my new very patient teacher I may sound decent come winter. And even if learning the language wasn’t suddenly a bit of a necessity, it’s an elegant, romantic way of speaking that’s much more phonetically graceful in my humble opinion, so I’d be really lucky to partake someday.
The second goal comes as a new variation of something I’d hoped to accomplish since long before the program. Speaking with other students here, you’ll hear time and again that they want to “blend in” and “be mistaken for a local”. Obviously fooling a true Florentine like that would be such a rush, which was my hope initially, but I’m beginning to think there’s a better way. What with our swallowed accents, casual (arguably scrubby) wardrobes, and stopping every two blocks to gawk up confusedly at street signs, we’ve got a plethora of things working against our attempts to fool the locals. Not to mention the fact that they’re buried nose-deep in tourists all year round and likely aren’t giving anyone the benefit of the doubt.
As such, a new goal of mine is to learn the language and culture in an attempt to represent Americans well instead. My Colorado culture is, of course, nothing to be ashamed of, nor to be abandoned in hopes of assimilating. If I can let go of the idea of completely blending in, I think I’ll begin to offer something back to the generous people of this city. It will do so much more for them, I predict, to learn a little about Colorado and hopefully see the more culturally-aware side of Americans than to snicker at yet another one trying to follow the herd. I’m aware that I’ll have some preconceived notions to disprove to the locals from the start, and some unflattering ones at that, but even so I see educating whoever is willing to listen about the potential well-roundedness of Americans as a responsibility in giving back to a community that will give me so much this semester.
As I saw so recently, these goals can melt away and completely surprising ones can crop up every hour, but those two I’m feeling just might stick. For now I’ve got to hold myself strictly accountable for correct pronunciations and observing the way people walk in this city from a respectful foreigner’s distance — fingers crossed that I can accomplish what I’m setting myself up for before the end of the program comes in a flash.