Tuesday, August 7

saucepan alley

This morning as I was walking back home from the vegetable shop, down the narrow alleyways and endless steps, I met a lady from Rome and her husband. I had given the lady a pedicure a few days beforehand and we had chatted for over an hour (in Italian) while I worked. This morning she was standing at the bottom of a set of steps that led up to the top of the town where there are a few small shops.

"Look!" said her husband, pointing to me, "don't you know that girl?"
She saw me and waved me over. "Hello! Do these steps lead to the saucepans?" she asked me. (She used the word tegame.)
"Saucepans?" I repeated, wondering if I had heard wrong.
"The saucepans. Are they this way?"

I decided that I had heard wrong. What could she be looking for, I thought? Maybe tegame is a Roman dialect word for something...maybe she just means the top of the village... As I hesitated in replying her husband waved me away with his hand and said to her, "She's a foreigner, she doesn't know."

He knew very well that I had been living here for years, but obviously was one of those men who has met few foreigners in his lifetime, and maybe couldn't quite believe that a foreigner could move to a new country and learn the language well enough to communicate. I, on the other hand, couldn't quite believe that someone had actually asked me if these steps led TO THE SAUCEPANS. Not "is there a shop that sells saucepans in this direction?" but simply, "is this the right way to the saucepans?"

I wanted to prove to the man that I could understand and speak his language very well so I hurridly told them that if they climbed the steps and turned right they would arrive at the top where there was a bar and a selection of shops. They thanked me and waved me away.

As soon as I got home I checked the word tegame in the dictionary, but I was right, it meant pan. I was still half convinced that I had heard wrong or that the word had a different meaning in Roman dialect but there was nothing more I could do...
Until I saw the couples daughter on the beach a few hours later.

"Um, I saw your parents earlier, they asked me if they were going the right way for the saucepans...is that possible, or is my Italian not as good as I thought?"
She laughed. "Yes, you were right, my mother was going mad because she didn't have the right sized saucapan and decided to go and buy one."

I am glad I asked, because I have learnt something new. I can now try it out on other people. Just imagine the fun I can have...
"Excuse me, is this the way to the french beans?"
"Hello! Do these steps lead to toilet paper?"
"Tell me do, is this the road for a vodka martini?"
I can't wait to try it out.


  1. haha! This is hilarious! I can just imagine you asking which way it is to the nail polish remover!

  2. Hmmm... this is the thing about Italian!

    Juuuust when we think we have it figured out, someone with some dialect and local quirk throws us off on a loop! :)

  3. The Chiantigiani have already got one important directional question answered, with "La Strada del Vino" ;-)

    I think I'll start doing that in the States as well... "Excuse me, is this the way to the leather shoes?" "Which way is the sea-salt?" "Hi, I need help with directions to the leather jackets."


  5. Some nerve they had. I would have told her some words in Nnapulitane that I can't write here but she'd have no problem understanding. Her and the husband. Snobs.

  6. OK you've touched on a pet peeve of mine here; I've had this happen a couple times after someone realized I'm not from here, they'll use some obscure, weird, and probably downright wrong way of saying something just to f*ck with me.

    Not saying that's what happened here, of course, because we can't be sure, but the way to the saucepans?

    Uh yeah, up the stairs and take a left, stronzi.

    Glad you were vindicated!!!!!

  7. Cara Nicki,
    il tuo italiano è ottimo. Forse iltroppo caldo ha fatto fondere il cervello di questi turisti!!!! Anche io non avrei capito il senso della frase.
    Ci vediamo

  8. I could understand it if you had been in a shop, but out on the street?! I suppose it was too long a sentence to ask if it was the way to the saucepan shop.

  9. That's a pet peeve of mine too- people who think that just because I'm an obvious foreigner (I don't look the least bit Italian) I don't speak the language even when they know I'm not a tourist. The worst is when I talk to someone in Italian and they reply in halting English and even when I keep speaking Italian they continue to reply in bad English until I finally say "why are you speaking English with me?" At first I thought that these people were trying to show off their fabulous English skills (not) but now I realise that for some people here tall person with blonde hair + speaking Italian simply does not compute.

    Sognatrice - I've actually done that thing of using obscure expressions with foreigners (in my case Australianisms that no non-Aussie would understand) but only in self defense when someone was giving me a hard time. When I lived in Russia 10 years ago I remember a cashier in a hotel who was incredibly rude to me in Russian so I switched to English and spoke with a lot of Aussie slang. She quickly switched back to Russian and was very polite to me from then on. I would normally never do that though!

  10. OMG people like this need a serious lesson in proper language usage and some people skills. But, what really pushes me over the edge is when someone has the bravado of saying, "She's a foreigner, she doesn't know." I get that at times as well and mind you I can 1. speak proper Italian well (as well as 5 other languages fluently) 2. read a map 3. follow directions 4. almost never get lost (even in the craziness that is downtown Napul') But somehow I don't know anything because I am female and foreign -and when I do have those rare moments of brilliance where I can tie my shoe -it is because I have an Italian to thank for showing me how to do it properly.
    (can you tell i've had one of those days too?) Next time do what I do and explain to them V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y that they need to speak using whole sentences that make sense OUTSIDE of their own heads. Doesn't always work but it makes them feel silly when they realize that you're speaking to them as if they were the village idiot.


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