When I was at college I enrolled in an Italian class. I learned to ask directions, tell the time and say how old I was and how many brothers I have. I did not learn to understand the directions that I was given, or the time that I was told. I also wasn't taught that Italians often do not talk Italian but their local dialect instead which is really a whole other language.
So when I moved here in 1999 I quickly realised that I had to learn to converse in Italian and if not talk, at least understand Neapolitan as well, for my own well being. One evening I was on the beach with Lina and some friends. There weren't enough chairs for everyone so when one guy said I could sit on his lap I did. He immediately launched into a string of gleeful neapolitan, which had the others roaring with laughter. Lina didn't laugh, she said quietly, “Nik, get up and slap him. He is saying really rude things about you.” If translated to English he would have been saying something like “ yeah, look lads, I told you she's begging for it!”
So I jumped up, walloped him and stalked off. That is when I decided to really learn the language well.
I went out and bought a selection of childrens comics and books in Italian. I never went anywhere without my Italian/English dictionary. At home the radio was always on so I could listen to the language and start recognising phrases. Most importantly I swallowed my pride. I realised that if I made a mistake and was embarassed by it, I would remember the next time. Here are my three worst mistakes:
1. Trusting everthing I was told was correct. I asked someone how to say 'I don't mind'. He thought it would be funny to teach me 'che me ne frega', which is more like 'I don't give a shit'. A couple of days later I went for lunch at his sweet old nonnas house. She offered me a choice of pasta and in front of the whole family I told her I didn't give a shit what I ate.
2. The word for mouth is 'bocca'. The word for hole is 'buco'. I got them muddled until one day striding down a busy street in Sorrento, on the phone after eating an ice cream, I shouted down the phone that 'my hole was frozen over', meaning to say that my mouth was very cold after the ice cream. Cringe!
3. I had been invited to a big lunch. There were about 20 people and it was dragging on a bit too long. The man sitting next to me was a friend. Not being horrible but he is very big, very ugly, about 50 and very scary looking. But he is a harmless old softie when you get to know him.I turned to him and asked, “shall we escape?”. He looked at me, stroked his chin in thought and asked me to repeat the question, which I did. He stroked his chin again and said very slowly, “Now, I know what you said but I think you don't know what you said. Could you ask me again, using different words so that I can be sure of what you meant?”
“Andiamo via?” (Lets go) I said. “Aaah,” he replied, “ I thought so.Let me teach you
something.'Scopare' means to sweep the floor ,but can also mean to have sex, to shag.
'Scappare' means to escape. Try not to muddle up these words again, it could get you in trouble!”