Qualcuno di voi vuole raccontare la sua prima lezione in una lingua straniera? Judy James ha raccontanto magistralmente la sua prima lezione di italiano “full immersion”, dove nemmeno una parola della sua lingua madre è stata proferita e dove un’ora di lezione si trasforma ai suoi occhi in una surreale operazione segreta…
La storia è stata pubblicata nella nota rivista “The American in Italy”, che raccoglie racconti e aneddoti sulle avventure degli anglofoni in Italia.
Judy James è a Spoleto e dice di voler imparare l’italiano. Ebbene, la sua insegnante Elisa le darà sicuramente del filo da torcere.
“Winter in New Hampshire seemed long and cold and life in America was passing me by. Italy had beckoned me since living in Sicily in the early 80’s and I longed to be a part of that society that embraced food, wine and amore. Speaking the language would surely change my experience from a two week vacation to the experience that would set me apart from the casual traveler.
I could never afford the high season travel expenses nor did I want to be lost in the summertime shuffle of what I was trying to accomplish. I wanted to be immersed in all things Italian and I chose Spoleto to hopefully welcome me into their lives. I landed in Perugia on New Year’s Day.
I did not speak Italian and Roberto my driver from Perugia to Spoleto proved that to me. The words I learned in Sicily in the 80’s no doubt sounded like Arabic to him and what did I know I could barely remember “Quanti Costa” when he dropped me at my flat in Spoleto, home for the next 3 months.
I unpacked, shook off my jet lag and found Elisa…My Italian teacher who would bring all of Italy into focus for me.
What I found was a 90-pound woman who hadn’t turned 30. How, I wondered, could she possibly teach this old dog any new tricks, much less another language?
As I hand over the 100 euros for the next four lessons, I imagine she is thinking, “Like taking candy from a baby”, but with her sweet smile Elisa gestures me to have a seat. She hands me a packet and it is all in Italian. How could this 90lb adorable creature make my hands sweaty and take me back to 1st grade? Maybe Elisa wasn’t even a teacher maybe this was all a scam, why has she not said a word of English to me?
I wanted badly to concentrate but what was there to concentrate on? She was speaking only Italian and I do not understand Italian — which is why I came to her in the first place. I checked around the room for cameras to see if I was being filmed for America’s Funniest Home Videos, which is probably how Elisa supplements her income.
“Judita! Come ti chiami?” I knew it…she is a fake! She hung a shingle outside because it was too cold to beg in the streets so she steals from Americans in the warmth of some imitation classroom. She already knows my name and now she is asking me for it again. Next she will want my Social Security number. “Judita, come ti chiami?” I bet she doesn’t even speak English which is how she fakes the entire “immersion” deal. Now she is shouting: “JUDITA, COME TI CHIAMI? All right, all right, “Mi chiamo Judita.” “Brava Brava Judita,” she said with 90 pounds of smile behind it. Oh, now I get it. She is going to ask me a bunch of questions in Italian and I have to respond in Italian. Now how do I figure out what she is asking?
“Judita, di dove sei”? Okay, if she first asked me my name she must be asking me where I am from and I remember that “dove” is “where”. I pursed my lips together in my best Italian shape and responded “Sono Americana de New Hampshire.” Little Miss Elisa (probably a fake name) nearly fell out of the second story window of her fake school. “Brava, BRAVA Judita!” She was so cute that I threw in an “E tu?”
Grave mistake on my part because she then thought I knew more than I did and she started with that machinegun rapid-fire Italian. “Judita, Quanti anni hai?” OMG, I just understood what she asked me but I do not know how to say six, so for today I think I will be “Sono quatro quatro.” (Hey, she was lying about this language school sham so she can just try to believe I am 44 while I figure out how to say 6, which I think is “sessanta”. “Mi dispiace Elisa, sono sessanta quatro.” How could I lie to her? She is only 29 and I could not allow her to believe that in 15 short years she was going to look like me. “Si, sessanta quatro?” “Si Elisa, sesssanta quatro.” (insert sad face here)
“Judita, che lavoro fai?” I remember that “lavoro” means work in Spanish so she must be asking where or what I do for work.
Oh boy… How do I say I am living on half of my former spouse’s military pension and he hates me, so I come up with something far more respectable and say, “Sono scrittrice” Hey, being a writer is far better than being a deadbeat ex-wife on the dole from Uncle Sam — and anyway Elisa has never heard of Uncle Sam. (That beggar on the street would like to get to know Uncle Sam but for today I was going to be a famous author from America.) I no longer live in New Hampshire. I live in the state of pretend, just like little Miss Elisa and her pretend school. First problem with my plan is this: try to say SCRITTRICE successfully three times real fast. Looks like I will need to change my profession to something I can pronounce.
“Sposata?” Uh-oh…that sounds like spouse…is she asking if I have one, want one, used to have one and never want one again? I gave it a try and said “No, non sposata.” I am still not sure if that is correct, yes it is correct that I don’t have one and don’t want one but not sure if that was grammatically the correct.
Suddenly I get a break in the tension. The church bells chime 11 times. Lesson over. Church bells never ever sounded so good. Basta. The first lesson was behind me and I was exhausted.
As I was going out the door I ran into another American woman going in for her “class”. I wondered if she knew it was a scam operation. I introduced myself in Italian and extended my hand for a nice “Let’s get together” handshake. She shifted the books in her arms, gave me the wet-fish shake and slid past me on the narrow stairs like I was the beggar on the street. Not to worry. Elisa will take care of her when her first lesson of the day is SONO BRUTTA AMERICANA!
As I walked home (passeggiata) I tried to practice my lesson while dodging dove droppings and found myself disappointed in the content of the first lesson. I wanted to learn words and phrases that would enrich my stay in Spoleto. Like “Where does Fabio live? Are you rich, Fabio? Do you like younger women? I am only 44.” Oh well, maybe next week.
“State of pretend”, by Judy James – The American In Italy