This week, I am pleased to present a guest post from Annie Bettis of Wayward Traveller. I am proud to say I have actually had the opportunity to meet Annie while here in Florence. Aside from being an incredibly nice person, Annie is also extremely insightful about Italian life, living with Italians, and making the leap for travel experiences. She has spent the last 6 months living in Florence and recently launched her new travel blog, Wayward Traveller. I love Annie’s tagline, “Until I’ve seen it all”. Follow Annie on Twitter while giving this new travel writer a read and learn about life in Italy and beyond.
As I type this, I hear the familiar bickering of the elderly couple that lives above us. I am reminded, again, of my place here. It’s now been six months since I have arrived in Italy. I’ve spent half of my 23rd year here, but I still can’t call myself a local.
The couple’s bickering is all too familiar, but the words; the words still don’t register in my brains vocabulary. I wonder what is going on in the heads of Lorenzo’s friends, when once a week they see me and I smile and stare blankly into the unknown. I have a undying fear that they will forever think I am just some American droid sent to slowly take over the mind of their beloved friend.
My expat friends keep reassuring me that it’s only a matter of time until I can understand the conversations. How do you break a year of silence? I imagine making some vulgar man-joke only to see his conservative Italian friends stare at me in horror and confusion. Hopefully, it would all end in a laugh. I know they are understanding that I haven’t have the same eight years of language study they have, however, I think that my personality is quite enjoyable and I would like them to be able to see what Lorenzo sees in me. I can assure you it doesn’t have to do with how pretty I look when I stare into space or make squinty faces trying to read people lips.
Every day is different. Some days I go to the supermarket or some new vendor and make some humorous and successful communication with a local and I think I have finally found my place in this little city center suburb. Then it is all shattered as minutes later a lost Italian asks me about the bus system and I stare blankly. I have learned to say “Comé?” instead of “Scusa?” when I don’t understand, as that conveys that you simply didn’t hear the demand but I suppose the deer-in-headlights look gives me away just a bit too much.
The City Center is the worst, even if I try, and I almost always do, my Italian is met with a huffy English response. I would avoid the Center all-together to avoid this reaction but then I remember, I still need these clear responses to get myself around.
I have considered learning just enough German to say “I only speak German” to the street vendors so they will stop cat-calling me and shouting “Excuse me, Miss California?” but then I will inevitably be called out in some German slang and have to fess up.
I guess, after six months of living and three months of Italian courses, I have to admit. I am still lost in the abyss that exists somewhere between tourism and local life. Maybe at the end of my year, I’ll heave a sigh of relief as I can finally join the Italian small-talk, then I’ll be hoisted out on an expired visa and on to the next travelers battle.