Some Sundays ago, at the Brunch, we were practicing Italian at the table where I sat. We talked about many interesting topics during the three hours of language exchange. At a certain point, someone asked me, “Have you ever made a fool of yourself for not knowing how to pronounce a word correctly in another language?” Of course my answer was: “Yes!”.
Here’s my story, of how I made a fool of myself in front of my former Italian in-laws:
I had been in Italy for a short time, only a couple of months, so my Italian was still not very good. That was also the time I had been dating Riccardo. We had met in a bar, he was the bartender and we fell in love almost at first sight (I say almost because I went many times to make sure he had seen me). We started dating on Halloween night (maybe a premonition of what that relationship would be like, but this is another story). And soon after he wanted to introduce me to his parents, I’d been putting off until he told me it was his mother’s birthday and that she wanted me to go to the celebration too. I could not refuse, so I arranged myself in the Italian style, that is, a little dress, heels, makeup… but all very posh (those of you who know me know that I usually go quite formal, but Riccardo said that Spanish women, myself included, seemed very hippies).
In short, there I was, looking my finest, putting to the test the Italian I had learned in two months of classes, with my new in-laws who I had just met. I was extremely nervous so I didn’t speak too much, but when the waiter arrived I had to open my mouth to order my food. Well, for those of you who do not speak Italian, I will tell you that it is VERY important to highlight the double letters; that is, if there are two “n” in a row, or two “m”, “l”, “s”, it does not matter the letter, if there are two together, you have to pronounce both, because the meaning of the word can change. I wanted to order the “all’arrabbiata” macaroni (it could be translated as “angry”, basically they are a bit spicy), but instead of ordering “le penne all’arrabbiata” I asked for “pene all’arrabbiata”, which it turns out to be an angry penis…
Everyone’s eyes widened and my mother-in-law, raising her voice, repeated to the waiter that what I wanted was teh pasta. I wanted to die of shame. I don’t think I spoke more during the whole awkward evening.
Now I remember it and I laugh, but at that moment I had a terrible time. The good thing is that I learned the importance of pronunciation. This is not learned with books or apps, it is learned by speaking with native speakers.