For the first three semesters of college, I took Italian language to prepare for studying abroad. However, last semester I did not take any Italian. Thus, I forgot a larger portion of my vocabulary and grammar than I would like. Some of it has come back since I arrived in Rome and began using Italian on a daily basis again, but I am disappointed in myself for not taking a fourth semester. I feel that I would get even more out of this experience if I had stuck with the language.
If you are reading this and considering coming to Temple Rome, definitely try to pick up some of the language! It is immensely helpful. My own limited knowledge has definitely come in handy in the two weeks I have been here. It seems that Italians prefer people to respect their culture and at least attempt some Italian. Many times, I have started in Italian then slipped into English (or even Spanish on two embarrassing occasions—give me a break, the languages are very similar).
Italians are generally accepting of this and often times their English is better than my Italian. The conversations are a mishmash of both languages, but we can get points across with the help of hand gestures that Italians hold so dearly. When I went to purchase a monthly bus pass at a tabacchi (tobacco shops that also serve as a general store and sell bus tickets), the cashier answered my request with a flurry of Italian, none of which I understood. Even when he repeated it slowly, I was having trouble understanding. Eventually I worked out that this tabacchi did not sell monthly passes, but I could head around the corner to another one.
At the second tabacchi, I was told that the monthly metro passes are only sold at the metro ticket office. I’m still not sure if this is true, but I was reluctant to try my luck at a third tabacchi. I arrived at the metro ticket office confident in my Italian abilities after my successful conversation with the second tabacchi cashier. However, when I asked for a monthly pass, I was handed a form that could have been written in Mandarin. Even with constant consultations to an Italian-English dictionary, I could not understand the abbreviations on the form, and when I did understand the questions, I couldn’t answer them. The woman at the office spoke nearly no English. Eventually, we figured it out together and twenty-five extremely stressful minutes later, I had unlimited bus/metro rides for June.
Even with no Italian, it is not that difficult to communicate with people. Many speak English and almost all are willing to work with what you do know. I am extremely grateful that Italians use hand gestures so frequently; not just a stereotypical custom, hand gestures make communicating a lot easier. Thankfully, the language of ordering gelato—the most important part of being in Italy—has no barriers. Hold up the number of fingers for the price of your cup/cone, point to your flavors and you’re on your way to yet another famous monument or amazing restaurant.