I’m not sure there is a way to truly prepare oneself for a strong language barrier. Granted, I slacked off a LOT on my language studies prior to moving to Italy, but the point remains.
Coming to a new country has been a pile of learning experiences, and figuring out how to function without having a grasp on the local language has not been the least challenging among them. I mean, I don’t exactly blend in here, which only adds to how oblivious I seem in public. While English can be spoken in many shops, restaurants, and museums in the city centre, the same isn’t as true for the outer neighborhoods like where we are staying. Being that Sean and I were both raised in Phoenix and both worked in restaurants over the years, we have a somewhat working knowledge of Mexican Spanish…which has, it seems, actually made it more difficult to train our minds in Italian! Some of the basic structures and conjugations are the same, but I continually battle my tongue against reverting to Spanish for numbers, days, and basic question/answer phrases.
When I say it’s a learning experience, I don’t just mean learning the right words to use. I am learning to pay closer attention to gestures, expressions, and context. I am learning to mimic the behaviors of others in order to understand social norms and avoid folly–like getting to the cashier with my neatly bundled produce, only to have her sigh and walk back around to the produce section where I was apparently supposed to weigh out my items and print the price stickers from the bar code machine. Noted. I am learning to ask for help.
I guess I’m really just learning my place, here.
I know for certain that I will be more sensitive to foreigners when I get back to the States. It’s easy to say “If you’re gonna come here, learn the language! This is ‘merica!” But I have a new perspective on that now.
Be patient, be helpful, and be kind. In some ways, we’re all just strangers in a strange land, ya know?