Bi Lingual in Small Talk

I just went to Southern Italy for the first time.

It’s nice being surrounded by people speaking other languages. Italian is a dramatic language to listen to. It sounds as if everybody is trying to convince everybody else to do what they want them to do. Very serious and intense followed by a sing song inquisition intonation.

I don’t speak much Italian. My Italian translates into the word choice of a woman who thinks she is of higher economic status than she is.

Waiter (in Italian): What would you like?

Me (in Italian): My wish is to have the special pizza on this night.  

The Italians who do speak English fluently frequently use the word “advise”.

“We can take the road of the view of the ocean or the quick road.. you will advise me”

“You may have the house wine or your choice of many other wines.. you will advise me”

I am the advisor in Southern Italy. I advise on rudimentary issues primarily: pasta or pizza – windy roads or straight roads- cheap wine or pricey wine.

Issues that need to be answered in a timely fashion. No time to debate research or count the majority vote. It’s intuition and sometimes, it’s wrong.

I made a bad decision in Mexico last year based on language barriers.

My boyfriend and I went to Mexico, yeah, we have it like that.

We stayed at a Boutique Hotel that cooked breakfast for us every morning and the staff was chatty. With only 6 rooms, they know everybody who is staying there.

It is interesting how much conversation is simply small talk. With limited Spanish I felt like we were having normal conversations.

Me “Good morning”

Them “Good morning”

Me “A great day for the beach”

Them (Smiling) “I like your dress”

Me “Thank you. I bought it specifically for the trip online but thirty percent off”

Them (pause) “Nueva”

Me “Si, nueva y barato”

Once we started asking questions that were more intricate, my rudimentary Spanish started to show.

“We were thinking of going on the catamaran trip. How many people are on the boat?”

“Yes, you both can go”

“No… quantas personas en total en el barco?”

( a rapid answer in Spanish)

“Lo siento, en Englis por favor”

Silence. (talk amongst each other)

After what I thought was an effective line of questioning in my second language

We concluded the snorkel tour on the catamaran sounded like a great day at a great price.

We were assured two times that the van would pick us up and then drive us back after the excursion (my word not theirs)

I said “Oh great, we will get catered to, just the way I like it! Now can you pick out my outfit for me?”

They didn’t get the joke.

The van picked us up on time. Our driver told us his name was Wild Man Mike.

I asked how he got that nickname. He smiled and didn’t answer. I don’t think he realized he missed an opportunity to brag.

Language barriers get in the way of good storytelling.

We were the only two in the van until we picked up two young French girls who took selfies and sang. I wished we had opted for the private tour.

We got to the catamaran dock and there were dozens of catamarans. I would guess 60. And at least 200 people.

“we should have done the private tour” my boyfriend said. I was not alone.

My cute vintage sundress went unnoticed among a sea of short shorts and mid morning drinkers.

Once again, my vision of what was going to happen was quite different from reality.

I had envisioned a dozen or so people sitting quietly by the water, watching the crew hands conduct safety checks and stock the boat with fresh sandwiches and cold water. Maybe some Carole King playing.

But no, we were informed we had reservations on the Red Boat and we should wait until we see the guy with the red sign yelling “rojo”. Why did he have to be yelling?  

We sat on a bench which is not my favorite thing to do. If I’m sitting, I’d like to be comfortable.  Why sit in discomfort when I can pace and ruminate? I’d rather move around and drive myself crazy in the brain than sit and think about how I could improve my comfort with a pillow or footrest or a backrub.

“ROJO” a small man yelled moving fast past us. “Rojo! We are Rojo!” I yelled after him with no impact.

We grabbed our things and followed him, along with about 30 other people. The men in charge of the tour were loud and gregarious and made jokes in Spanish.

I wanted to sit in silence with a lot of personal space and a Yacht Rock play list.

They played Spanish pop music and danced and drank tequila. They were not there to relax and look off into the horizon and think- contemplate- imagine. They were there to party. In was 10 am.

I suffered silently as I often ask others to do.

They made announcements in Spanish. In my opinion, the boat was overcrowded and nobody was taking that fact seriously.

The main party boy announced, “We have two people who speak only English” He looked at us, the blond lady with visible sunblock and the guy with the shaved head. We smiled weakly. The only two people not looking forward to the rest of the day. He pointed to where the life preservers were “If a big problem was to occur” I wanted to put one on or at least see them but there was a large woman in a bikini sitting on the box they were in. She liked when the boat boys poured tequila in her mouth.

We were the only two not drinking. We kept asking for water which was in a pitcher that became refilled when one of the guys took it into an area we could not see and that made me nervous. “Can I get a bottled water?” I asked less than 20 minutes into the ride.

No, only bottled beer.

It’s terrible when you make a bad decision and realize it’s a bad decision with 6 hours left to endure the consequences.

This was a situation where my poor bilingual skills caused vacation torment.

Thankfully, in Italy we did not have this problem. One time I ordered a bottle of wine instead of a glass.

That was the biggest problem I had in Italy.

If I had that miscommunication in Brooklyn, I would see it as a great opportunity to point out the decline in the hospitality industry.

When it happened in Southern Italy, it was simply and invitation to drink a bottle of wine.

Thanks for listening! 



Kendra is a stand up comic living in Brooklyn. She is the proud owner of a $3000 bed where she eats, drinks, and occasionally entertains. 

twitter @theotherkendra 

Instagram @theotherkendra 

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