Step by step

For the most part la bella lingua continues to elude me, and I’m still hoping to be struck by lightning and magically wake up the next day as a fluent Italian speaker. However, I am – in a rather prevaricating, can I be bothered, fashion – trying to learn a new word or phrase a week. Important to get it right though. “Pieno” means fill the car up with petrol at the service station. It does not mean “I’m full” at a restaurant – rather, a filling up of, ahem, a different sort…oooh Matron!

The farmer across the road knocked on the door the other day, gave me some apricots and a fig, then rattled something off. I caught the words for “car” and “fresh”, and wondered if he meant, had I been for a drive when it was still fresh and not too hot? No idea. He took one look at my puzzled expression and wandered off muttering to himself and throwing his hands up in the air.

Ditto an encounter with Giorgio, the town postie – the one who caught me partly inflagrante last summer. I’m in the pharmacy waiting for cat medicine (yes, in the pharmacy), and in comes Giorgio, shaking hands with everyone along the queue with a politician’s slick smile (he knows all their secrets). He sees me, greets me warmly and barks out something. I catch the word “cassetta” (letterbox) but nothing else so smile and say “Si, si, grazie”. Get home to realise he’s telling me the fig tree has come down and is blocking access to my letterbox. Got to get it cleared or the world as Italy knows it might come to an end.

Help does sometimes come out of the blue. I’m selecting bread rolls in the supermarket, and the lovely lady serving me says “Con noci?” With what, I say? A voice pipes up from the meat counter – noci are walnuts. Ah I see, yes please, con noci. At the post office the other day, two strangers chimed in to help, one with an electricity refund, the other with sending a letter special delivery. We all beamed at each other happily – I got my stuff done, they’ve helped the local straniera (foreigner) out and, most importantly, I didn’t hold the queue up.

A straniera I will always be here, I know that now. I’ve had the sheer effrontery to buck the local trend (get married, have babies, never stray far from the kitchen) and move here on my own. Worst of all, Oh Mio Dio, she drives around town in a convertible waving at people she doesn’t know, the hussy!

But slowly but surely, I’m wearing some of them down. I’ve been shopping for odds and sods at the local mini mart for a year now and the owner has for all this time been dour and unfriendly, with a very disapproving air about him. Until last week, when he waved hello at me in the car park and then greeted me with a big smile! I quickly checked – nope, no body parts hanging out or buttons undone. I think I’ve just reached his acceptance level – or spent enough money!

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