Over the course of five decades I’ve learned a few things about myself: I’m an optimistic person by nature, I like to be in charge, I’m a visual learner and I don’t do well with languages. Being in Italy right now, the language issue has come up a lot. My husband always studies the local language before we travel and he does an admirable job of communicating. I rely on him, hand gestures, a smile and English speaking locals. Most of the time I do okay. Yesterday was not one of those times. Yesterday, my husband, my mother-in-law and I sat down to lunch in a quaint little restaurant on Via Nazionale in Cortona, Italy. We had been there before and the headwaiter spoke lovely English; however, our waiter this time was a much younger, mostly Italian-speaking waiter. My husband ordered first and asked for bruschetta con olio y aglio, toasted bread with olive oil and garlic, as an appetizer. Because I didn’t want to try saying the garlic word myself (Italian g’s are tough for me), I simply indicated that I, too, would like that appetizer. This apparently gave the waiter the impression that my husband and I were sharing lunch. My husband went on to order a pizza, but the waiter seemed concerned about something. I thought he was concerned that the one pizza would not be enough for the two of us to share so I waived my hands and, pointing to myself, said, “No, caprese, per favore.” At this point I thought we were okay. My mother-in-law placed her order and then the waiter looked back at me and said something in Italian about caprese pizza. Thinking he was confused about what I really wanted I said (and these are the critical words), “No. Not pizza. Insalata caprese (caprese salad).” The waiter smiled, nodded and made a few scratches on his notepad. Another successful English-Italian encounter.
A little while later, the waiter returned with my mother-in-law’s food, my caprese salad and an empty plate for my husband. None of us thought this strange since an empty plate is often provided when ordering pizza – in the United States. We should have realized that this is not usually the case in Italy where pizzas are ordered, and served, individually. My mother-in-law and I began to eat our lunch, reveling in the wonderful tastes (Italian food is amazing), while my husband waited for his pizza. He waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, when I had finished my lunch I said, “This is crazy! There’s no way it can take this long to make pizza.” I think the light bulb went off for both of us at the same time. My husband and I looked at each other and said, “No. Not pizza.” I picked up the folded order ticket the waiter had placed at the edge of the table and, sure enough, there was my order and my mother-in-law’s order and then the word, pizza – scratched out. There was no pizza coming for my husband’s lunch. The waiter obviously thought that my, “No. Not pizza,” referred to my husband’s order, not to some confusion about what type of caprese I was ordering. I wondered what kind of man the waiter thought I was married to. He must have thought him to be a complete wimp since my husband had clearly just ordered his pizza and the waiter was willing to let my direction of, “No. Not pizza,” override that order.
A friend suggested that if I lived in Italy for a year I would likely be able to pick up the language simply from immersion. The thought is tantalizing – a year in Italy with the outcome of being able to speak Italian. I’m not sure, though, that a year in Italy with me botching our lunch orders is my husband’s idea of an equally tantalizing way to effectively diet.