When I first moved to Italy, it used to really bother me that I couldn’t understand the conversations I was overhearing around me. What are all these people talking about? I’m missing out on so much!
And then I went back to Australia for Christmas, where I understood everything going on around me, and I realized the truth. Most of what you overhear, you don’t want to overhear. Those 2 weeks in Perth, I swear about 90% of conversations I overheard were either people making loud phone calls on the bus to reschedule their colonoscopies to work around their urologist’s appointment, or bros telling their gym buddies about the new Paleo-kins diet they were on where you’re only allowed to eat spinach, bacon and protein powder and maaate you just have to try the spinach-bacon protein shakes I make, I’ve been slamming them down, every meal, they’re amazing.
These days, my Italian language skills have improved and while I’m far from fluent, I’m starting to think the level I’m at is somehow optimal. I can usually understand what I hear if I actively listen, but I can still tune out conversations on the bus just by not paying attention — even if someone says something outrageous, I’m not going to pick it up unless I’m listening for it. And my spoken Italian is rubbish, but I’m starting to think that’s for the best… 3 stories to illustrate:
- The other night, I’m on the tram, it must have been around 11pm so it’s quiet but not empty. Everyone is minding their own business; two guys get on. One is very obviously drunk, the other is his loyal friend who is really hoping to get him home as quickly as possible, hopefully without too much drama. I make the mistake of listening in. The drunk guy is discussing his girlfriend, who’s dumped him earlier today. How could she?! But whatever, she was no good anyway, he was about to dump her. But how could she?! It’s all her fault anyway. But how could she duuuump meeee? At which point, I’m very glad that a) it was his stop and his friend made him get off, and b) I couldn’t think how to say “Maybe she dumped you because you’re a tedious drunk,” because that would have been mean and probably gotten me into a fistfight.
- A few weeks ago, I was cycling to work and pulled up behind another cyclist at a red light. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice something moving. It’s a spider. On seat of his trousers. I did consider trying to say “hey, there’s a spider on your butt!” but I decided against it because it didn’t look like a dangerous spider, and I could just imagine the follow up, “No, really, it’s a very dark coloured spider and you’re wearing light beige trousers and it’s moving around so it was visible in my peripheral vision, I really truly wasn’t checking out your butt while waiting at a red light, really…” So awkward! Not to mention, the only Italian I could think of was less like “butt” and more like “arse” and he’d probably just think I was yelling obscenities at him.
- Yesterday, I was at the supermarket buying grapes. This one’s a longer story, because on the face of it, there’s no good reason for me not to have asked one of the other customers, “do you reckon any of these are seedless?” But I was worried they might ask why I was after seedless grapes, and then we’d be in the realm of things that are hard to explain even in your mother tongue.
So the story with the grapes is this. Saturday, I was feeling especially crafty, so I decided to make my own mixed peel (candied peel, if you’re American). Turns out, it’s really easy, I used this recipe and it worked splendidly:
This might end up in a Christmas cake, if I don’t eat it all first.
In this case, success is followed by hubris. What else could I preserve? Glace cherries sprung to mind, but of course I’ve missed the cherry season by several months (next year!). Why not… raisins? So there I was, buying grapes, and refusing to ask for help finding seedless ones because I didn’t want to have to explain, “well I made my own mixed peel even though you can buy it, so now I’m thinking I’ll make my own raisins even though you can buy them and I swear I’m not that sort of person normally.” (It didn’t help that a lot of the how-to-dry-raisins instructions I found on the internet were on Mormon lifestyle blogs. I made sure to buy beer and coffee along with the grapes, to preserve my own self-image.)
Turns out the kilogram of grapes I bought were not seedless. But hubris is followed by madness, so I sat down with my kilo of grapes, and a knife, and I cut every single grape in half and pulled out the seeds. Every. Single. Grape. About halfway through, I checked in with myself:
Self, what will you do if this all fails and you don’t end up with anything resembling raisins and you’ve wasted all this effort?
Well, what else would I be doing on a Sunday night?
So now I have 2 trays of grape halves in a very low oven, maybe they will form something resembling raisins, or at least something close enough that I can soak them in booze and put them in a Christmas cake.
Come on ugly grape ducklings, you can turn into beautiful raisin swans!
Maybe I should spend my Sunday nights on Italian language learning, instead.