Common Ground. Learning Italian as Form of Respect

Not only I want to be able to know what people are expressing, but I wish to reciprocate on somewhat of the same level. Learning the language is not only a matter of convenience and personal satisfaction, but also of respect for the Italian society that is now part of my life (Leggi in Italiano)

There's always room to better yourself and grow as an individual. Whether it be new experiences, a new outlook or a new skill-set. For this instance it is the latter. My interactions with the population in Rome are always interesting and stimulating. And for me, a foreigner, a learning experience in each and every one. These interactions can be challenging due to my one apparent flaw in linguistics. I know enough Italian to get by on a daily basis while my understanding of a given conversation allows me to get the gist of it, as well as the necessary summary. Although, there is something lacking in these encounters. Not only do I want to know what people are expressing, but I wish to reciprocate on somewhat of the same level when conversing with my fellow Romans.

A situation presented itself a few days ago that made this abundantly clear while shopping along Via del Corso near Piazza del Popolo with my very pregnant girlfriend and her sister. After stepping out of a sunglasses boutique, I observed a man collapse in the middle of the street. He appeared to be with one of the many school field trips that clutter the city during the spring and summer months. The man large in stature, with a well over 6ft frame and width of an oak tree was being helped to his feet by another chaperone and a student one third of his size, as the rest of the school group looked on in what I can only describe helpless shock. They struggled to move him from the middle of the street down a side street just directly off Via del Corso. I immediately realized there was a clinic not two blocks away, having been there to fill a prescription. Ditching my girlfriend and her sister I pursued the three ragazzi to let them know this vital information.

I rounded Via Borgognona with an expedited strut to find them half dragging the man into Ginger Cafe. With every three steps they took, he seemed to give out once, his legs buckling underneath him. “Ragazzi!”, I shouted. “Ragazzi!”. My second verbal burst caught the teenager's attention. I proceed to “try” to tell them about the nearby clinic, with horrendous speaking skills, but accurate directions. Although a bit puzzled they start to take my lead as I carouse them back to Via del Corso to point at the sign for the clinic. Not fully understanding where or what I am trying to convey to them, they hesitate. “Vai, vai!” Just then another woman, an Italian native joins me in our attempt at rescue. They follow her instructions with an immediate left with the clinic a mere 100 ft. away.

Reflecting on what had happened made me think. What if the shoe had been on the other foot? What if it was me or one of my loved ones that was in a similar, vulnerable state? The fear of not being able to speak well enough to ensure my or my family's safety crept in to provide me with more than enough motivation to get my Italiano up to par. With this in mind, especially with the ever soon approaching birth of my daughter and the desire to communicate effectively throughout Italy, I'm going back to school.

The older we get the more difficult it is to learn a language. No longer are our brains like sponges, but more like clams. But despite this I am eager to learn what will soon be my child's native tongue. Not having been on campus in quite some time, my priorital list pertaining to school has somewhat changed. Long are the days of me worrying what friends or cute girls will fill the ranks of my classroom. Or worrying that my outfit for the first day of school is cutting edge and on the fringe of the newest trend, ensuring my silly expectations of complete social domination. My only concerns today are the quality of the faculty, it's resources and the effectiveness of their methods. The teenage me of past is shaking his head with embarrassment.

This common ground of language is of utmost importance, not just for convenience and personal satisfaction, but for the respect for the Italian society that is now a part of my life. It is a necessity in order for me to grow as an Italian citizen and as a person. Now should I bring an apple or a clementine for my teacher the first day of school? Ciao.


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