We had an important guest over for dinner last night. My boss, actually. So yesterday, around lunch-time (=best time to avoid germy people if you have a low immune system!), I was at the supermarket getting the ingredients I needed for my planned menu. I also had to get some wine. So there I was, in the wine section of the supermarket, reading labels and trying to decide what to buy. At one point a woman passed behind me with her arms full of groceries. Then…suddenly…Crassssssh!
I looked to the right and saw this lady’s groceries scattered all over the floor, right next to my cart. No eggs, luckily! I asked her, in Italian of course!, if she needed any help. Without waiting for an answer, I bent over to pick up something. And then I heard her ask, over my head, in U.S. English: “You’re American, aren’t you?”
I froze in mid air. “Oh craaaap,” I thought to myself, “I must have picked up an accent when I was in the U.S. Bloody hell, why didn’t Stefano or my best buddies tell me???”
Looking up, with my hand on a pack of paper towels, I asked her, a bit chagrined, “How’d you know?”
(Hey, please don’t get me wrong and think that I might be embarrassed to be a U.S. citizen…not at all. Thing is, I’m not just fluent in Italian. I’m compleeeeeetely BILINGUAL, and I’ve always been really proud of the fact that Italians can’t tell I’m NOT Italian, Tuscan in fact…once I open my mouth, that is. Truth be told, I don’t look Italian at all…I mean, I could be German or British or U.S.–tallish, blondish, Anglo features–well, you get the idea…Anyway, point is, I’d be really devastated if I suddenly developed a U.S. accent in Italian…What can I say? It’s one of my pet peeves. I really like being bilingual… 🙂 )
Back to my story. She looked me up and down and remarked, “It’s the way you look…your clothes. Look at me…We could be twins!”
Explosion of relief in my mind: “PHEW! I DON’T HAVE AN ACCENT!!! YAAAY!” 😀
As for my clothes, it’s certainly true that I don’t get all gussied up when I go to the supermarket. I was wearing jeans that, admittedly, are too big for me, plus a heavy cotton sweater and a lovely Indian scarf that I’d bought in the U.S. a few weeks ago. Yes, I certainly was very casually dressed…Still, I was and am still shocked that she could tell my citizenship just from the way I look…And hey, I was even color-coordinated! 😉 (You know what they say about Americans…)
At any rate, we finished picking up her spilled groceries, chatting all the time. Then she asked: “How come I’ve never seen you around?” A bit taken aback, I almost replied that I don’t really hang out much at the supermarket 😉 , then I realized she meant she had never seen me in the U.S. community in Florence. Well, that was easily cleared up—I simply don’t have any contacts in the American community here. Apart from my blog reader/now friend DB, all my friends are Italian, but that’s a mere coincidence. I grew up and went to school here in Florence. you see, and that is why all of my friends just happen to be Italian. I’d actually love to have more U.S. friends over here, and I’d love to speak more English…
And that may just happen. Perhaps that is why I had this “chance” meeting…that is, to meet more U.S. citizens in Florence. I’d really like that…
In the end, we exchanged phone numbers, e-mail addresses and so on. Ah, that was another weird thing. I mean, I normally would NEVER, not even remotely!, entertain the thought of giving my private contact details to a complete stranger, someone I’d been chatting with for just 15 minutes inside a supermarket. Hellooo? But she was so nice and funny, so I’m really glad I did. We’ll probably get together soon for coffee…and we’re already “friends” on Facebook.
As I was driving home, I considered how odd that encounter had been…I mean, if her groceries hadn’t fallen right next to my cart AND if I hadn’t offered to help pick them up, we wouldn’t have met…The strange things in life, eh…
Co-ink-dinkys ain’t…. it’s the universe answering your call, even if you didn’t know you made it! Lovely!
By the way, the Colombians outdo the color coordinating thing by 100% over the U.S. and they are into the bright-brights, too! Even a peasant woman will have on pink top, pink scarf, pink earrings, pink belt and possibly pink shoes when going to town…
I’m not fully bi-lingual in Spanish yet, but still working on it… I used to be bi-lingual in French, but that’s disappeared after 40 years of not using it enough.
There’s no substitute for learning early. In my early days of foreign service, back in the sixties, in Lima, I had a girlfriend with a German father, French mother, English friends and school, in a Spanish speaking country. Completely quadrilingual – and with no conscious effort – how lucky can you get?