If not now, when?

One American woman. Twenty acres and a 1650 farmhouse in Tuscany. Random introspection and hilarity, depending on the day.

11 December 2006

Open mouth ... insert piedi

Living in a language you aren't totally comfortable in creates a level of psychic stress that it's hard to accurately explain.

Not being able to casually toss a reply to a question, approach a stranger with ease, or overhear what's taking place at the table next to you: it's the little things that make navigating daily life much more challenging.

It's turned me into a much more cautious person. I often apologize before I speak, occasionally pause too long in conversation, or stammer over my words, things formerly-confident me never did in English.

Just this week, I have consciously procrastinated on calling the plumber because I don't know the technical words to describe the pulsating of the electrical system when my well pump goes on, or how to say 'there's a leak in my bidet'. Even my friends I find it painful to talk on the phone with, for fear I will miss a critical word, like, oh, say ... "come with me to the (funeral before the) dinner party."

I had to physically psych myself up to call and ask Signor Padovanni to deliver my wood, knowing that he'll ask me how much I want, and that I'll be not sure how to measure ... cords, hundredweights, quintiles, rows... much less how to say ANY of that in Italian. I finally just tell him how much I want to spend and ask him to bring men to "put it in order" (because the word for 'stack' eludes me).

I realize that even with the amazing progress my Italian language has made that the dull, waxy buildup of this psychic stress on my subconscious is definitely taking a toll. Even in English, I find I hesitate more when I speak. As if now on instinct, I expect whenever I open my mouth that I will sound like a maleducated preschooler from Appalachia.

On the bright side, hesitating every now and again before opening my mouth might prevent me from inserting my own foot; a skill which I was occasionally just a bit tooooo proficient at back in the States. But being so clearly 'not from around here,' for now I still have the perfect Italian conversational get out of jail free card... though I think its expiration date is nearing, people are starting to think I actually know this stuff!

Oh, damn you, elusive past perfect subjunctive tense*!!!
*(to be fair, I think it eludes me in English, too.)

Is it possible to actually become DUMBER when you learn another language?


Blogger sognatrice said...

Oh my, do I feel your pain here. I can't tell you how many phone calls I've put off because I don't know how to say something--and I'm not talking about *exactly* knowing how to say something. I'm talking "But how can I even explain this in a roundabout way?" It's very depressing.

I love your blog, btw :)

5:21 PM  

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