I always knew Italian men were forward. I don’t think there’s a girl or woman alive in the Western world who hasn’t heard this rumour, or who doesn’t share at least an inkling of this feeling about the self proclaimed “Latin Lovers” of the Italian peninsula. But sometimes, I wonder if these guys don’t get a bad reputation by pure linguistic misunderstanding.
Case and point:
A group of us are out at a bar having a drink, socializing and generally just enjoying each others’ company. A few friends of friends saunter up to our table, and in true Italian style more chairs and another table are conjured out of thin air. These friends of friends are invited to sit down, share our wine, and spend the rest of the evening with us. Beautiful. In my opinion, it’s always great to meet new people, so I welcome the opportunity to start talking to Giovanni, one of the guys who found himself a chair beside me.
The group is having a great time, laughing, consuming wine and nibblies with gusto, generally being loud and Italian (not to givetooo much credit to stereotypes here). As the evening draws to a close and we’re all saying our “buonanottes” and “arrivedercis“, Giovanni makes his way back over to where I’m standing talking with our mutual friend, Antonio. The exchange that leaves me utterly horrified goes something like this:
“Ciao, Sarah. It was a pleasure to meet you tonight. I had a great time talking to you. You speak Italian wonderfully.” (I’m not writing this to toot my own horn. This is actually how the conversation went).
“Ciao, Giovanni. It was a pleasure for me too. And don’t feel so shy about speaking English, you don’t make as many mistakes as you think you do!” I smile. He had been pleasant to talk to, and of course he had tried out his English on me, the madrelingua (native speaker). We lean in for the customary Italian double kiss, and things are still normal.
Once we’ve both received a peck on each cheek, Giovanni backs away, makes deep eye contact and digs out his English again, “So, can I give you my number and maybe one night we could, how do you say, get together to do an exchange of tongues?”
He smiles, and I recoil.
He’s serious, and I’m incazzata (I’ll leave the translation out for that one. You can imagine why).
I had had a nice conversation with this guy for probably a good 45 minutes that night, and he hadn’t come across as the least bit sleazy or forward. Now that we’re leaving and maybe he’s got a bit more liquid courage in him, he thinks he can boldly talk to me like that?! I don’t think so! And I was especially taken aback by the fact that he said this to me without a second thought about Antonio who was standing right there, witnessing this exchange. This Giovanni guy was shameless and I was flabbergasted.
I could feel my face contort into a look that was 1 part disgust, 1 part horrified and 1 part offended. Seeing this, poor Giovanni, who was already a good head shorter than me, started to shrink back into his designer duds, looking confused and embarrassed.
“Sarah, what did I say? Did I make a mistake? Did I offend you?” He looks nervously between Antonio and I.
I’m angry. “What the heck, Giovanni!? You think you can just boldly proposition me like that in front of everyone?! We had a nice conversation tonight, and basta. Enough! I’m not going to exchange tongues with you, or engage in any other sort of…that type of behaviour! Never!” Hmmfph.
And suddenly, beside me Antonio cracks up and starts howling with laughter. Now it’s both Giovanni’s and my turn to be confused as we watch him gasping as he tries to speak.
“No…No!!!” He shakes his head and continues to laugh ridiculously. Now I’m a little incazzata with him too, since he thinks this is so funny and thinks it’s ok for his friend to talk to me like this. He continues, “Sarah…Giovanni…Misunderstanding…Wasn’t coming…on to you…Just wants to….practice his English!”
“Practice his English?” I say, incredulously. Yeah right! What, was this some kind of conspiracy that most Italian men, including my friend Antonio, were in on? Preying on Italian-speaking foreign girls?
“Sì sì!” Giovanni nods furiously. “Just to practice my English, and for you to practice your Italian, not to….”
“Sarah,” Antonio puts his arm around me, partially for his own support and partially to comfort me, I guess. “In Italian we say ‘fare uno scambio di linga’. To do a language exchange. But you know that lingua also means tongue, and Giovanni just translated it wrong! He wasn’t hitting on you.”
Needless to say, all was forgiven and forgotten after this little “lost in translation” moment. I just wonder how many other foreign girls have been offered a “scambio di lingua” and have also taken it the wrong way!