How I Learned the Italian Word for Peanut Butter and Other Similar Tales by Spencer Smith

Living in Italy is kind of like living in a dream.  Not because it is all picturesque (although, it is) or scary (although, it is), but because you can’t control anything.  It’s really difficult to make things happen when you can’t speak the language; so instead, you spend a lot of time letting things happen, which isn’t always bad.  Sometimes it can even be fun(ny).

Take, for instance, my recent run-in with an Italian student.  Granted, this interaction occurred at six in the morning, standing outside a discotheque, and in very cold temperatures (I still don’t understand the whole Celsius to Fahrenheit thing), but we got into a bit of a disagreement (I think).  I jokingly said “Andiamo. Dormiamo”  which means “Let’s go.  Let’s sleep.” in Italian (I’m trying to use Italian when I can.)  This Italian student seemed a little shocked.  He had been speaking in English to me the whole night (with good reason, “Andiamo. Dormiamo” is about the extent of my Italian right now), and he seemed upset that I hadn’t spoken in Italian with him.  He then proceeded to give me a mini lecture about how Americans or the English are always coming to other countries and expecting to speak English even though they know the language of the other country.  I tried vehemently to assure him that this was not my case.  I don’t think he believed me.

Or, you may want to consider my recent experience on a tram.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of public transit.  It’s much cheaper than taxis and it beats walking.  What I’m not a fan of is the fact that the ATM (Milan’s name for the mass transit) Point won’t issue me a pass that I applied for three weeks ago.  So instead of having a convenient card to swipe when I get on a bus, tram or the metro, I have to buy two-day passes for 5.50 euros.  It’s a shame.  After much watching, I became convinced that you didn’t have to buy a new two-day pass every time.  Ticket inspectors only check to see if you have a ticket (or so I thought), so as long as you keep a two-day ticket in your pocket, you will be alright, right?  Wrong.  In my first attempt at trying this technique, I was stopped by a ticket inspector.  Apparently, when you swipe a ticket, the machine digitally stamps it, and if it’s not stamped, then you are in trouble.  34 euros worth of trouble.  So now I’m back to buying two-day passes.

Or, take my first Italian dinner.  I had been to a couple of Apertivos, which are basically happy hours except backwards (you buy a drink and then get free buffet-style food), but these aren’t really the same as real dinners because you don’t end up eating very much.  So about a week ago, I was invited to a real Italian dinner at a restaurant.  I was ecstatic. The dinner was supposed to start at 9:30.  I couldn’t get my roommate, Johannes, to leave until 9:00.  I knew that this would not be enough time to get there, but he seemed to know where he was going so I thought “a couple of minutes late, what’s the harm?”  Johannes then proceeded to ignore me when I knew which bus to take (although he did so goodheartedly and I must admit I wasn’t very confident in my knowledge).  When we finally got off the tram, it was 10:00 and we had about a 30 minute walk.  This 30 minute walk was made better by Johannes’s continuous joking, which involved him laughing about how worried I was that we wouldn’t get there in time.  “Spencer,” he would say, “we are in Italia.  They aren’t even eating yet.”  But we finally arrived at the dinner at 10:30. I was so worried that I would have missed the meal.  Everyone was seated when we walked in.  But that was it.  People were sipping wine, but no food had been served.  I took a seat and watched the amazing-ness of Italian dinners.  We were eating with about 50 college-aged students.  There was a lot of chanting and singing and tomfoolery.  It was so much fun.  And then we were served a pasta as our first course!  Then we received half of a pizza as our main course!  Delicious!

You may also be surprised to know that I was turned down from an Italian discotheque.  The club in question was called La Banque.  Supposedly, it’s one of the best clubs in Milan.  I went with my friends and we all stood in line, waiting for them to let us in.  When we got to the front, the bouncer looked at my (very nice) blue t-shirt and pointed to the neck.  He said some words in Italian and then pointed to another boy’s neck and then another’s.  I immediately understood the pattern.  They had collars; I did not.  I laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation.  My friends seemed more concerned than I was.  One of them even tried giving me her scarf to cover up my non-collaredness.  Obviously, this didn’t work so I was forced to go home.  Since I didn’t have an ATM ticket with me, I decided to walk home.  I don’t recommend this for safety reasons, but it was a beautiful night in Milan and I greatly enjoyed it.

And lastly, on my latest adventure grocery shopping, I decided to buy some granola with chocolate in it, thinking it would be good to have in my vanilla yogurt.  The box said “Cioccolato belga e Nocciole;”  I ignored the Nocciole part.  When I opened it a couple of days ago to start eating, I tasted something that was not chocolate at all.  In fact, it tasted an awful lot like peanut butter…. That’s when the meaning of Nocciole dawned on me.  My Italian vocabulary grew.


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