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Ciao, Grazie, Dio Borracho! Avventuras con Italiano

July 24, 2009

On the afternoon of the 10th, Jesse Durkin and I were half-heartedly attempting to fend off Marco’s parents continued efforts to feed us while using the internet at their house, the internet being an increasingly more rare and more valuable commodity the longer we stayed in Italy. Marco was deep in preparation for a house party that he was throwing that evening for us, Ashley (another friend from Berkeley who arrived that afternoon) and a few dozen Italian friends of his.

Much of our time in Fusignano/Lugo, where Marco lives, was spent hanging out with his friends and family and, respectively, eating or partying with them. Both social situations gave me a perfect opportunity to practice my Italian, the product of about two 30 minute lessons in Rosetta Stone and a half a dozen or so Italian swear words that my father has taught me at one point or another, most of which are in a dialect no longer used by anyone in Italy.

Friends and family are very forgiving to those who wholesale massacre their language, unlike clerks and strangers on the street, who will stare daggers into your soul for failing to establish the proper gender agreement between article and noun when asking for directions to the toilet. In the course of 3 days a sort of implicitly agreed-upon hybrid language had formed between me and all of Marco’s folks that I will call Spanitanglish, a hybrid (or tangle) of Spanish, Italian and English.

Spanitanglish would typically begin with my attempts to speak Italian by assuming that the Italian word was the same as the Spanish word. This was not as ridiculous as it might sound, and as I had taken 4 years of Spanish in high school, I had a pretty nice reserve of cognates at my command (and a good number of false ones: for example, embarasado means ’embarassed’ in Spanish but ‘pregnant’ in Italian, a nice little etymological mystery in a culture where the word for ‘cool’ is derived from the word for female genitalia).

This initial stab at Italian would usually be responded to with peals of laughter, whereupon they would teach me the correct Italian word and I would repeat it several times out loud, trying out creative constructions with it to get a hold of the grammar and agreement structures of Italian (when there was something more difficult or longer to say, we would just revert to English). In the early stages of learning language, however, one generally emphasizes nouns, and I could not be as creative with my descriptions as I would like to be with my adjectival vocabulary, limited to words like ‘molto gusto’ ‘delicioso’ ‘dulce’ and ‘al dente’. Not everything in Italy be described as tasty, delcious, sweet, chewy, and so on, so I needed some way of avoiding strange constructions like ‘cuesta ee una festa deliciousa!’ (‘this is a delicious party!’) while still getting the most out of my attempts to learn Italian.

Learning language in comfortable company can be fun and exhilarating, but also removes many of the most basic inhibitions about what one is saying in that other language, especially when coupled with the exorbinant amount of alcohol that I was consuming in Italy with Marco’s friends. So the answer to my limited adjectival vocabulary came in the form of catchall words like fattuto, meaning ‘fucking’ (an especially useful modifier for one of my first vocabulary words, zanzari, ‘mosquito’) and the use of newfound noun vocabulary to the point of absurdity (achendino means lighter, and I was found of asking hi un achendino to people even when I didn’t want one).

Highlights include (all of which while sto umbriaco) the creative application of fattuto to every object in or relating to a pool game I ended up losing; trying to threaten Marco by telling him I would kick his ass in Italian but instead relating to him that I would stick my toes in his rear; my attempts to impress several of Marco’s friends that were laughing at my Italian by repeating the Italian words for ‘horse’ (cavillo) and ‘firemen’ (pompeideiri), and, in a particularly creative night of noun-adjective agreements, blurted out ‘dio borracho!’ (drunk god) during a intoxicated, critical discussion of the Roman Catholic Church (using the Italian word for God and the Spanish word for drunk).

All of these attempts did not quite lead me to Italian fluency, but they did, I think, endear me to many of those who were both laughing with me and at me, and who gave me the affectionate nickname of Jesse Pulgiese (a region of Italy where the Germinario family came from) to distinguish me from Jesse D.

Until later, ciao, tutti deliciosi!

  1. Laura G permalink
    July 24, 2009 8:27 pm

    hilarious! If I was a really really old person, I would have peed myself.

  2. lee permalink
    July 28, 2009 4:05 am

    wonderful post, i love your spanitanglish constructions, especially the (absurdly poetic) “dio borracho.” oh, what a lot of liquor and a little language can do. Nel vino la verità, no?

    One nitpick: “embarasado” means “pregnant” in Spanish too…so unfortunately, you’ll be running about calling yourself a pregnant man in both Spain & Italy =)


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