Part VI: Please
By Bridget Meade
“One of the subtler beauties of travel is that it enables you to bring new eyes to the people you encounter,” Pico Iyer writes in the foreword of Wanderlust.
When we travel, we become an advertisement for our homeland. Our hosts observe us as much as we observe our new surroundings. It’s not only about whether we wears white tennis shoes instead of sandals or what monument we visit first, it’s how we conduct themselves when at the train station, when we are lost, or when trying to buy food or other supplies.
When I first traveled, I was on a Contiki tour bus with twenty other 18-35 year olds. The focus was more on what bar we visit that night than the culture around us. Most of the hotels, restaurants, and bars were accustomed to hosting tours. An attempt to speak the native language was only a sign of respect and not a necessity for survival.
Now that I am living and going to school in Viterbo, Italy for five weeks, things have changed since my first trip. Living in a place is completely different than passing through. The locals know us as “USAC students from America.” Courteous behavior is strongly recommended as it will affect how easily day-to-day tasks are conducted tomorrow.
Viterbo is not a major tourist attraction and few store clerks are proficient in English. As a third time visitor to Italy and four plus years of Spanish in high school and college, I thought I could cheat my way through Italian language. I was proven wrong immediately.
The day after returning from our five-day excursion to Southern Italy, my classmates and I had a short amount of time to get lunch before leaving for another trip. A friend and I chose the only nearby option was a small butcher shop that served ready-made sandwiches. The first thing I noticed was the sandwiches looked nothing like others I’ve seen. Second, the words printed on the package were foreign to me. Forget the close relationship between Spanish and Italian languages, I wasn’t sure what to choose and I was hungry.
I fumbled my way through my order, pointing at the least intimidating sandwich. Then my friend who has studied Italian began to order. She asked about the beef sandwiches and what meat they contained. She asked about the chicken sandwiches. Then when she decided on her sandwich she said, “Per favore.”
The eyes of the gray-haired man behind the counter lit up. He smiled as he opened the packaged sandwich, carefully pouring Tabasco sauce on it, and then put it in the oven to warm it up. He opened up a container on the counter, pointed to the cookies inside, smiled and said, “Prego.”
This moment and the cookies have become one of my favorite moments in my short stay in Viterbo. It proved that a simple word like “please” could turn a frustrating situation into a pleasant one. It also stresses the importance of being able to communicate; no matter if you think you will be able to get by or not.
I signed up for Introductory Italian classes the next morning.
Bridget Meade is an Interactive Journalism graduate student at the Reynolds School of Journalism. She decided to pursue her Master’s in Journalism after she discovered personal blogging several years ago. As a result of online communities like 20-Something Bloggers and the new friends she met all over the world, Bridget’s interests expanded and she redefined her personal and professional goals. Her interests are in social media, specifically Twitter, technology, and networked news. She enjoys snarky humor, the ocean, all things Italian, wine, and time with her 90 lb German Shepherd, Keo.