As a foreigner, small talk with a new (to me) Italian usually goes like this:
Italian: “Da quanto tempo sei qui?” (How long have you been here?)
Lynn: my response depends on how well I think I’d been speaking Italian up to that point. The answer could range anywhere from “da poco” (just for a while) to the truth “sono qua da 4 anni” (4 years). My answer varies because the conversation always then goes here:
Italian: “Ahhh Complimenti. Parli bene l’ilatiano.” (Oh, wow, you speak Italian well)
Lynn: “Grazie. Sto imparando.” (thanks, I’m learning)
They then say is some form of, usually excellent, English
Italian: “I don’t speak English well at all. Or American**, either.” (either is pronounced ITHER).
And then comes The (pronounce “theee”) Question…
Italian: “So, what do you miss from the US?”
I get this question all the time and every time it stymies me. I mean, yeah, yeah, there are the obvious ones: family, friends, the NY Times Sunday edition (mostly just the crossword), the Dairy Queen. It’s not that I left the US out of some kind of social protest (although there might be some traces of that), I happen to like a lot of things American. It’s just that in my daily life, apart from the 4 obvious ones, I don’t generally feel any kind of big lack or longing.
Then today, as I was leaving the grocery store parking lot, quite randomly my car filled with the sweet voice of Garrison Keillor delivering “A Prairie Home Companion” on fm85.9 –“ the Rock of the Riviera”. I pulled the car over as a sea of longing / joy came ebbing / flowing. How lucky can one gal be…sitting in her car on a coastal road on the Italian Riviera (who cares about dangling lights off the back) looking out over the Mediterranean sea listening to Garrison Keillor talk about all things important from another beautiful part of the world that said gal happens to know rather intimately also.
I would say that I am prepared for the next cocktail party but I think that even the best travelled Italian would have a hard time understanding if I said, “I miss Lake Wobegon”. Shit, most Californians don’t get it. I think I’d have more luck trying to explain a snickers blizzard.
Just in case you were wondering…the normal-to-Americans, and much easier question to answer in small talk, “so, what do you do?” doesn’t usually come up. It’s considered a little rude here. If you think about it…really it’s nobody’s damn business what you do to make money.
“I’m in the Olive Oil business.” I was prepared for that one but never get asked.
**Contrary to what we Americans think, there are a lot of people who don’t realize that we speak English. And then there are all those who realize we think we speak English but they know we don’t actually.