Friday, October 9, 2009

The handkerchief nazi

posted Thu, 23 Sep 2004

I have taken three four-hour classes in Italian and I am still not fluent. This is ridiculous. I want my money back. There are little kids here who speak the language. How hard can it be?

Part of my problem is that my brain is confused. There is the English section of the brain and then there is the ‘all other languages.’ It used to be that the all others section was occupied only by Spanish, but now French and Portuguese and the first line of the Our Father in Greek are in there as well. My brain seems to think that any word from that section will do when I am not speaking English, so when I search for a word here – an Italian word – the brain says, ‘Here is the French word for what you seek. Give it a shot!’

This is Capri. We were going to go there, but now that the lady who told my sister two weeks ago that we had a reservation has said that we do not but we can call Friday to see if something is open, we have changed our plans. It didn’t help that we learned that Capri is multo caro.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There are a lot of cognates among the four languages (we’ll leave Greek out for purposes of this discussion, although many Spanish/French/Portuguese/Italian words are from Greek roots), but usually what happens is I get a blank stare – or, worse, a response in English.

That happened yesterday with the guy at the linen shop. I asked if the things in the shop were made in Italy in Italian. At least, I think that’s what I asked. The clerk sneered, in English, “What kind of question is that?”

Startled, I asked what he meant. “Are you curious or are you to buy?” he answered, rolling his eyes.

I don’t know yet. Maybe to buy.

Deep, dramatic sigh. “The things, they come from all over Italy. It is hard to say. Why do you want to know?”

Through gritted teeth: Because I am in Italy and want something made in Italy, not something imported here.

My intransigence was not without cause. The pillow covers I bought were made in India. Some of the tablecloths I have seen are made in the Philippines – I saw the same ones in Panama. If I can get something at Pier 1 or Target, why on earth would I buy it here and haul it all the way back to the States?

What item in particular, he wanted to know.

The handkerchiefs. I had seen some in the window display.

They are made in Italy. Then he stood there, saying nothing.

May I see them, please? I ask.

Rolled eyes. He pulls out stacks of them from behind the counter, tossing each package onto the counter.

In the meantime, I am getting more and more annoyed. I don’t like being treated badly by someone to whom I might be giving money.

He puts out all the handkerchiefs, puts both hands on the counter, and leans forward. I make my decision. No way am I going to buy from this guy. You know, I say sweetly, I think not today. But thank you very much.

“That’s why I don’t like answering those questions. One thousand people come into the shop and ask and then no one buys,” he complains.

I am so amazed at his attitude, especially considering the great service I have gotten elsewhere in Italy so far, that I am shocked into talking back, which is something I rarely do, preferring to annoy my friends with long accounts of instances where I was wronged and should have said something. I smile and say calmly, “You know, maybe if you had been nice, I might have bought.”

I later found another linen shop down the road that had nicer handkerchiefs for a lower price being sold by someone who was nice to me. I bought ten.

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