If ever there was a vote for the world’s best talkers, the Italians would win hands down. When in form, an Italian can not only talk the hind leg off a donkey but also its front leg and tail as well.
Just a few hours in Italy are enough for you to realize that very few Italians (make that single figures) speak any language other than their own. However, this does not in any way stop them from having long, and extremely voluble, conversations with strangers whose knowledge of that musical tongue is restricted to three words: Sì, non and ciao.
I did not even know all three but managed fine to the accompaniment of vigorous hand movements and facial gestures. That’s Observation Number Three – while talking, move your hands in time, all the time.
Fumicino Airport, Rome. I queue up at the counter to report a pilferage from my suitcase. The man ahead has a similar problem. His turn comes and he speaks. A conversation begins and shows no sign of ending. After forty minutes, I start amusing myself guessing what they are discussing. Maybe the passenger is telling the official all about his last plane robbery in the year 1978. Maybe he in turn is being regaled with an engaging little story about the time the officer was looted in the summer of 67.
A day later, I am in Campoleone on the outskirts of Rome. Unsure at which platform the train to Roma Termini will arrive, I question the Station Master. I use the word ‘question’ loosely. What I actually do is say il treno (the train), binario (platform) and wave my hands about.
He gets the message. Well, almost. He holds out six fingers but says “eight” in English. I shake my head in bewilderment. He talks, I listen. He talks some more. And more. Suddenly I hear a whistle and watch my train pass by. No sweat! There is always another train and it was a such a pleasure chatting with a local. So what if most of what he said was – well – Italian to me?
On my final day in Italy, I reach the station late and just make it aboard the train to Termini. My companion is not so lucky and is left stranded on the platform. As I sink disconsolately into my seat, the gentleman seated opposite speaks up. He begins by assuring me that the next train will follow in an hour’s time. Follows a 45 minute-long one-sided dialogue in which my one contribution is the phrase, “Non capisco” (I don’t follow you.)
It does not matter. He follows himself perfectly.
And that, as any Italian would assure you, is the important thing.
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