Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A Crash Course in Italian

The World in the Palm of your Hands

In the car from the airport I wonder why I’m talking to the woman whose family I’ll be staying with. Not because the conversation is bad, but because she’s driving. She’s driving and apparently oblivious to the fact because she keeps taking both hands of the wheel. Apparently talking without hands just isn’t an option.

The more I realise this in Italy, the more I realise how useless all my verb conjugations are. The thing is, Italians don’t seem to get that hand gestures aren’t universal currency.

Love Birds

An Italian man asks me in Italian if I’m in a relationship, exaggeratedly bashing his index fingers together as if that clearly translates the question. I smile at this, then answer his question with a no. Which confuses him, because I shouldn’t be smiling, I should be getting myself an Italian. I bite back my response about having left an Italian to come to Italy, as I think this will just confuse him more.

Was that 'Angry' or 'Hungry'?

As I've noted before, these two words are the same for Italians - both in how they say them and in meaning.

But I will give them credit for adding some humor to any tense situation with The Dance of The Angry Italian. It’s just beautiful to watch. It starts with the exasperation of the hands in prayer being shaken at the offender, then the hand gestures get wider as the problem escalates until finally the arms fall down by the side, palms up, with something between force and laziness: I give up with you.

NB: Go here for more insults to throw out in your next argument. Which if you're in Italy will be soon.

Something Fishy Going On...

Sometimes though, I really think a few mirrors could fix the problem. If they could just see what they were doing, then surely some of it would stop. One of these moments takes place between a couple I meet in Rome. A friend of theirs disappears for a moment and they look at each other. Next thing I know, they’re stood side by side looking like a pair of fish playing the piano. I stare in utter confusion until I remember my Italian lesson.

‘Underhand business!’ I proudly shout.

Which is a bit like staring at a waving hand and saying to the person waving at you ‘I believe this translates as… Hello.’

The Italic Font

One day I ask an Italian why I’m struggling so much. Being a graphic designer he explains it in the following way:

The Origins of the Italic Font
(image by professional graphic designer)
‘There is a reason why it’s called Italic.’ He throws an arm upwards with a diagonal flick. 'We like to elaborate. To embellish our words. To add character!...But you English. No. You are like this.' He stands rigidly with his arms by his side. You are from Bristol? Like the Gill Sans font. You're probably a slim.’ Before I get all pleased about my weight despite how many gelatos I’ve eaten, I remember he’s talking fonts. He means my gestures have less presence.

Determined to prove him wrong, I’ve taken on trying to use my hands when I talk. The problem is, I can’t keep telling everyone there’s underhand business going on. So I’m writing my own font by using my hands in any and every way possible, giving every elaborate flick I can.

Of course it looks completely unnatural. Like watching your Grandma graffiti. But I so want to be… Italic.

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