Learning Italian: In my Country, I was a Doctor

I’ve gotten pretty good at navigating the basics of daily life in Italy; buying groceries, ordering coffee, driving, etc. I’m learning Italian, which is very far from perfect, but slowly, it’s becoming enough to get by. Sometimes, I even get a taste of competence. Sometimes, not so much. 

The other day, a plumber and a repair man came to fix a leak in our water pump (and radiator, and air conditioner – basically everything was leaking). No matter how hard I tried, I didn’t understand a word either of them said. 

Nada. 

Nothing. 

Zilch. 

So, we used Google Translate to talk through the bare essentials along with a lot of sign language (“See? Water here. Big water.”) This went on and on, as we moved from one leak to the next. But when we reached the air conditioner, the plumber asked if I had a ladder and holy-sweet-hallelujah – I understood him! Out of the roughly 16,000 Italian words spoken that day, I got the one – “scala.” 

“Si! Scala!” I replied enthusiastically. “Io ho una scala!” (I have a ladder!) And I raced downstairs to get it. 

When I got back, the plumber and the repairman were still chuckling because they’d never seen anyone so excited to get a ladder.

Delighted as I was to brighten their day, I couldn’t help thinking, In my country, I was a doctor… 

So you know how in some movies, there’s an immigrant driving a cab or working as a laborer and they mention offhandedly that in their country, they were a doctor?

That’s me now. 

Ok, so I wasn’t a doctor; I was a Communications Director, which may be even worse. I used to get paid to communicate

Communicating is what I did – every day. All day long I had whole conversations communicating messages, discussing best practices, overcoming hurdles, and analyzing big issues like politics, business, psychology, religion, and the vagrancies of the human condition – and I understood it all. 

Now I have “ladder.” 

The other day, I was attempting to fill my car’s gas tank. It’s not as easy as you’d think but I’ve gotten pretty good at this point. I know that you don’t pay at the pump, you pay at the machine that all the pumps share, then you go to the pump to fill up your car. I also know that this machine always asks a series of questions in Italian after you put in your credit card. It wants to know how many kilometers are on the car and asks for some kind of number that drivers have here in Italy, but all you have to do is press zero through all the questions until it starts up the pump. 

Well, for whatever reason, on this particular day, the machine wasn’t accepting my just-press-zero strategy. And I must have looked confused about it, because the pump attendant came over to help. He managed to show me how to circumnavigate the issue before I put in my card (he was a very kind pump attendant). Then I put in my card, entered my pin, and the pump started up. 

The very kind pump attendant was so happy for me that he clapped and said (in Italian) “Yay! You did it!”

In my country, I was a doctor… 

The machine issued a receipt, which I tucked into my bag with my wallet, and then thanked the kind attendant.  

This is when another man walked up and said something to me in Italian that I also didn’t understand. So I looked to the attendant, who pointed at my bag and said “ricevuta.”

Receipt … bag … and then it dawned on me. I’d taken this guy’s receipt. Mine wouldn’t come out until after I’d finished pumping my gas – like this guy had just finished doing.

In my country, I was a doctor…

It was just habit – I’d put in my credit card and out popped a receipt… so I took it. 

I apologized profusely and gave the man his receipt. He laughed good naturedly and thanked me. Then, I walked back to the car, pumped my gas, and returned to the machine to collect my own receipt – which everyone else had managed not to take. 

So I guess what I’m trying to say is: please be kind to the not-so-fluent English speakers you meet. It’s tricky learning a new language, it takes way longer than you’d think, and we’re all doing our best. 

In their country, they might have been a doctor…

Published by Andrea

Writer and avid explorer of all things.

One thought on “Learning Italian: In my Country, I was a Doctor

  1. We are enjoying your adventures so much. I love your amusement at yourself. Many of us could not manage that and would just have a melt down! Love you, my dear.

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