Wednesday 15 October 2008

Some foolish and not so foolish questions on Italy.

Question and answer time again! Jewel has a few questions as she is planning a trip to Italy next year! This time she has asked me if you can get by in Italy with knowing only a small amount of the language.

The answer is yes. You can get by in Italy without knowing Italian. Of course it does help you to learn a few key phrases, and you'll find when you use them, (or when you get them wrong) people will be so endeared that you tried! I travelled alone in Italy for 4 weeks and at this stage I only knew the basic phrases. I somehow managed to get from the north of Italy up by the Lakes, all the way down to Calabria, detouring through Rimini, Perugia and if I can do it anyone can do it!

Truthfully a lot of Italians speak English, especially in the larger touristy towns. If you find yourself in a small isolated town, and no one can understand your bad Italian or sign language then I bet you anything that the town folk will run off, hunt down an English speaker and bring them to you... Really, they would! If you plan on getting off the beaten track and discovering places like Calabria, Basilicata etc... then a small Italian phrase book would come in useful but in other parts of Italy you can get by on English alone.

Some other questions courtesy of my customers:

Do Italians only eat piazza and pasta?
People ALWAYS ask me this...always. The answer is "no you ignorant fools. NO! Do British people just drink beer all the time...NO! Let me make this easy for you, have you never heard of Jamie Oliver? He's British, like you. He did that great special on Italy, and even published that beautiful Italian cook instead of asking me such brain dead, feeble questions go and do a bit of research, go and look at a menu at a restaurant...or if you cannot be bothered go and drink a beer and leave me alone." (if only I could answer like that.)

Italians eat so much garlic why do they not smell? A young customer who went to the emergency room here in Rome asked me this. Seems he has a garlic allergy and due to the amount of garlic in his garlic mushrooms he took a turn for the worse. (Yes - I know...why order garlic mushrooms if you cannot stomach garlic?) I had no answer to this question. I could tell him we eat lots of garlic to ward off vampires...but in the end I just sort of laughed his question off. I do that a lot of the time, as some of the questions my guests ask me a ridiculous.

Can I do a day trip to Sicily from Rome? It seems that most people do not even look at a map before coming on holiday. When I lived in Sicily people always were shocked when I told them it would take about 4 hours to drive from Taormina to Palermo. They thought Sicily was like a small Greek Island. Here in Rome it is even worse as they do not even realise that Sicily is the island, right down below Calabria. I tell them that a day trip technically is possible, but that had best book a flight as the train will taken them about half a day to get there. If I have a map of Italy to hand I get them to look so 1) they can see how silly their question was 2) they can see that Sicily is an island...and not really a 'day trip' from Rome. (People also often ask about trips to Venice...)

Any more questoins that anyone has?


Jewel said...

Can I ask what nationality these people tend to be that ask such silly questions? I know if I were going to a foreign country I would study a map and plan out where I wanted to go while there at least get a sense of the geography. Perhaps that's just cause us Aussies are so far away that we can't just pop on over and figure out what we're going to do when we get there.

Bitter Chocolate said...

I went to Italy in June and I only know a few words, though I know quite a lot of Spanish and French so it was not too hard to get by... besides I find the Italian language one of the most expressive ones, I think it shouldn't be to hard to learn, everything seems very natural... but untill I'll attempt to do that, I'm not afraid to stick with my franco-spanish with an Italian accent when visitining Italy :DDD

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

Hi Jewel,
Nearly all of my guests are English, Irish or Scottish. Some people really don't look at a map or know anything about a country before coming on holiday.
I remember when I was visiting Sardinia with my friends, we bumped into one of Aussie friends at the airport who was going to Sardinia for a photo shoot since he is a model. He asked me what language did they speak in Sardinia. He had no idea it was a part of Italy!

Hi Bitter Choc,
Italian in an expressive language, and you are lucky with your french and spanish I imagine you'd get by very easily here, and even understand most of what people are saying in Italian.

Venice said...

This post made me laugh! The daft questions are very familiar to me, unfortunately! I would like to add:

What will the weather be like when we are there?

To which I answer, I dunno, let me look into my crystal ball...

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

Hi Venice,
You get the weather question all the time too! I get accused when I tell them the wrong weather. If I say the news says tomorrow is a bright day, and then it rains, I have actually had some people who got angry that I gave them wrong information!

Anonymous said...

Ha i get asked lots of silly questions too. Most common one that springs to mind is 'what language do people speak in Sicily'. That comment you made about the aussie model made me laugh - all i could think (terrible of me) was just as well he makes his money from his looks!

Day trip to Sicily indeed, however they do offer these from Malta (hydrofoil over, quick trip around siracusa sites , bus up Etna, shopping in Catania then back to Malta!!).

However, i DO tell people who are coming to sicily and want to travel independently that at the very least they need a decent phrase book and dictionary and a great deal of patience if they want to get around. This experience also brings a great deal of fun but i've found outside Taormina, the aeolian islands and some of the larger tourist offices it is almost impossible to find English speakers here. I've had friends who can speak english french Spanish and arabic (incl one person could speak all 4) not find anyone who could understand what they were asking at places such as the Palermo airport info desk, Cefalu train station etc. People are very helpful if you try in italian and the hand signals are legendary though!

This post reminded me of an email i got a while back about stupid questions tourists had posted on an australian embassy website and the brilliant, sarky responses they relied with. ha ha ha.

Vanessa in Messina

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

Hi Vanessa,
So you get asked the stupid questions too! Do you work in tourism, or just get stupid people asking you stupid stuff?
And you are right, in Sicily you really do need to know a little of Italian if you want to get away from the touristy places.

Anonymous said...

Hi Leanne

No i don't work in tourism, i just live here and get lots of my stupid friends coming to visit who don't listen to my advice and answers to their stupid questions!! I'd also say my own Mum asks at least one stupid question per phone call (eg - is smoking common in Italy?). Makes for some good stories anyway. Vanessa.

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

Hi Vanessa,
How funny that your mum asks stupid questions. When my parents were here for a visit they asked the most stupid questions all the time...and dad was even born here.

Tamar said...

Hi Leanne,

I don't think the question about food is a stupid one. I'm planning to study abroad in Rome next Fall (I even made a blog that will chart the process) and a lot of people that have gone to Italy have said "it's mainly pizza and pasta". This worries me because there is only so much pizza and pasta that I can it. However it didn't worry me to much because I will be living in an apartment and will go to the market and cook for myself.

I have a question though how long did it take you to adjust? Did you speak italian fluently when you went there? I ask because I am not of Italian descent and I am learning Italian in school. I speak the language pretty well and I am constantly renting Italian films off of netflix but my main problem is that I take a while to develop what I want to say because I'm so nervous that I will say the wrong thing. Also how do you see the treatment of African females over there? Are there a lot? I know Italy is has a lot of people that immigrate from the African countries but are their a lot in Rome?

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

Hi Tamar,
Thanks for you question. I still however think asking if Italians only eat pasta and pizza is a stupid question, because these people ask when they are on holiday here and have obviously not bothered to read a menu, or look around them and see all the other food on offer.

To answer your questions, it did not take me long to adjust as I had spnt a lot of time in Italy for holidays, and it was my dream to move I found the process very easy. I spoke next to no italian and only started to speak and learn after 6 months here. If you read on 'My move to Italy' and 'My expat interview' in the right hand side bar then you will get my background, and your will find your questions answered.

With regards to African females there are a lot that I have seen. I am however no expert on the matter and don't want to comment as I have no first hand experience. I don't think however you will have any problems. There are many nationalities all together here in Rome.

Check out this website too which will answer many of your questions.

Best of luck.