May 24, 2010

The Greatest Compliment of All

One of the tremendous advantages of living in a foreign city for an extended time is becoming fluent in the local language- and for me, one of my goals was to pass as “one of them”. This takes total immersion of mind and body, a good ear, the confidence to use new words and phrases every day, and the courage to try out and adopt the local accent. Forget speaking with an American accent. Train your ear, listen hard and repeat. Over and over again. Eventually what initially seems forced, becomes comfortable.

After graduate school in Florence, wanting to stay for a while, I worked for Macy’s . They had their own buying office in the city at the time, not far from Piazza San Marco. My friend Debbie and I were the “americanine”, the little American girls working there. We were so happy to have jobs in Florence, and did whatever was necessary in the office- we answered the phones- that job is called being the “centralino” or operator, we ran the telex room (any readers old enough to remember what that is?) we typed orders, and when American buyers came over from the States for trade shows, we travelled with them, translating and showing them around. And what perks- luxury hotels, fashion shows, shoe shows to die for- and I wore sample size!- Italian was my language, all day. It was heavenly.

After a while, reality set it, and I knew it was time to make a decision- like the old song says “Do I stay or do I go?” For a gazillion reasons, time to go-but with a heavy heart.

So I got on the plane, with eyes red and swollen from all the crying and all the goodbyes, with a pile of Italian fashion magazines in my bag, and I suppose after all this time, looking somewhat Italian.

A flight attendant came by offering candy, magazines, and newspapers. In Italian, she asked me if I wanted something to read, and in my heavy Florentine accent, I told her I had some magazines, but would like a newspaper, please.

And her response? “I’m sorry, they’re all in English.” And she walked on. What a compliment. Mission accomplished.

A presto.
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