So, as you read this I am either on a plane drinking heavily or in Italy drinking heavily. Or possibly in an airport lounge drinking heavily. Wherever: Drinkin’. Because that’s what one does on vacation when that someone is: Me.
I am a man of various odd rules and requirements that often defy explanation, and one of those rules is that when I travel to a foreign country I must at least attempt to learn a bit of the language. This is partially because of an urge to be respectful to other cultures, partially because tourists who can’t speak any English at all irritate me so I would be something of a hypocrite otherwise, and partially because I very much want to be able to shout help me I am being eaten by a horde of mice when in foreign land. Also: no I am not an agent of the CIA stop electrocuting my nipples or please do not take my reluctance to eat that as an insult.
So, I’ve been trying to learn a bit of Italian. My efforts have been slightly stymied by general incompetence. I’ve wanted to learn a second language for a long time, and I’ve frankly been kind of amazed that I could have grown up in Jersey City, New Jersey and not learned a licked of Spanish. This general feeling of Fail Shame has been pretty oppressive, and whenever I meet someone who speaks English as a second language my jealousy and sense of inferiority is pretty epic.
Because it’s not like I haven’t tried.
I went to an all-boys Jesuit high school, so I took two years of Latin. Latin! Believe me, 14-year old Jeff couldn’t believe it either. Absolutely none of it stuck, of course; I was far too busy memorizing batting averages and masturbating to actually learn anything, which is the Basic Fail of all American education. If you ask me, school should start at age four, then take a break at twelve through, say, thirty, then pick up again. Under the Somers Plan we graduate at age forty, broken and ready to sit at a desk for the rest of our sad lives before being made into Soylent to sustain those who come after.
But I digress.
I also took two years of Spanish, which should have been great, but I left school speaking less Spanish than when I started school. As a high school freshman I had a large complement of curses and insults in Spanish, when I graduated I knew nothing. At one point a teacher tried to convince me that my name would be Gofredo in Spanish, which was confusing; isn’t your name just your name?
So, after four years of letting some kid named Ian do my Latin homework and responding ¡No es bueno! to every exam question, I somehow graduated, but with no usable language skills at all. I can only conclude that I was a pretty cute kid.
Tais-toi, Chien Américain!
The Duchess is determined to travel the world despite the fact that the world is a terrible place, and despite the fact that I do not want to travel at all. I don’t even want to leave the house. I am so in charge of my own destiny, in fact, that I have traveled to several foreign countries despite my oft-stated desire not to do so.
We went to France once, and I spent months trying to learn some French. I worked at it, man, and by the time we arrived in Paris I was confident I had the sort of pidgin French that Americans have been relying on for years. Here’s how every single interaction went:
JEFF: French french french french french.
FRENCH PERSON: <sigh> Want to speak English?
Every. Single. Time.
Now, no doubt my French was awful. No doubt their English was excellent. Still, I remain enraged by these interactions. What’s the point of the immense weight of privilege I drag around with me everywhere I go if I can’t insist on speaking my half-assed French whenever I wish, forcing the poor citizens of France to adapt to my feeble communication skills?
SImilarly, when we were in Florence a few years ago I made an initial attempt at Italian, and upon arrival at our hotel I proudly introduced myself to the owner in Italian, or at least I thought I did. He smiled broadly, and said “Very good! Now we will speak in English.”