Like many office commuters, I spend my daily trip to work making phone calls, reading the morning headlines, and doing my makeup. I can only imagine what more I might accomplish if I wasn't the one driving.
But in preparation for my upcoming summer trip to Italy, I am now multitasking--much to my car insurance company's relief--with my new "Listen and Learn Italian" CD.
Five minutes into my first audio lesson, I called my mother for our usual a.m. conversation.
"Good morning, mia madre!"
"It's Sherry. Your daughter. I'm practicing my Italian. I know, practically fluent already, huh?"
"Oh! Yes, very good. What else have you learned?"
I frowned. Perhaps "mia madre" wasn't enough. After all, how many Italian strangers could I effectively greet by addressing them as my mother?
"That's it, so far," I admitted. "Plus, I know how to say "wine" in Italian." ("Vino!" A crucial piece of terminology which I mastered, I might add, even before my first lesson.)
"Well, don't you worry," she said. "I've been to Europe several times, knowing just the bare language basics of whatever country I was visiting."
I closed my eyes, cringing and nearly sideswiping the car whose driver clearly wasn't practicing good defensive driving.
Yes, this was my fear exactly. That like mia madre, Gloria, I would know just enough of a second language to be dangerous. And that I might possibly find myself, in Italy, recreating The Unfortunate and Forever Embarrassing Elevator Incident.
A few years back, we spent a week vacationing in Arizona. The region has a high Hispanic population, and a certain percentage of our hotel staff reflected this.
My mother, my youngest son and I found ourselves on the elevator one day with a raven-haired housekeeper.
"Hola!" my mother greeted her.
The housekeeper smiled in return and then resumed proper elevator protocol by turning to face the elevator door.
My mother--never one to let a stranger remain a stranger, as much as said stranger might prefer--glanced at her name tag.
"Oh, Gloria!" My mom's eyes widened. "I'm Gloria, too!" Before the woman had a chance to respond, Mother Gloria began executing a series of excited and rudimentary hand gestures.
"You, Gloria," she said, pointing her finger at the woman's name tag, "and me, Gloria," she explained, pointing to herself.
The woman silently studied her.
Mother Gloria glanced over at her grandson and me. She frowned in frustration. The housekeeper was apparently a bit slow on the uptake, unable to comprehend even the universal language of hand gestures.
She turned back to the housekeeper and resumed gesturing. "Me, Gloria," she said while patting her chest emphatically and then repeatedly poking the woman as she chanted, "You, Gloria!"
Finally, she managed to gather every ounce of her Spanish language skills and held up two fingers. "Dos! Dos Glorias!"
Pleased with her ability to lower herself to the woman's sparse communication level, she winked and nodded at her teenage grandson. He stared, wordlessly, at the elevator floor, in the hope that it might suddenly drop and put us both out of our embarrassed misery.
The housekeeper remained stone-faced and silent until the elevator door opened. She stepped off and turned toward the hallway.
Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced back at my mother. And, with the slightest of smirks and in perfect English, she said, "Have a good day, Gloria."
So, needless to say, I've been frantically listening and learning Italian on CD all week.
I'm afraid I can't rely solely on being able to order vino or pizza. (It is "pizza" in Italian, too, right?) And even though Italians are famous for talking with their hands, I'm reluctant to rely upon communicating through my own combination of questionable language skills and hand gestures.
I have an uncanny ability to offend people, on a regular basis, in my own language. And in my desperation to be understood in another country, Lord only knows the damage I might do--even in conversation with those whom I may come to find out speak perfect English.
When I do, I'm certain I know just the hand gesture to expect in return.
I saw that same gesture, while doing my makeup today on my drive to work, from the driver of a passing car.
Any tips for traveling abroad? Do you multitask when you drive? How do you say "OMG, please just kill me now" in Italian?