This week I signed up for a one-week intensive Italian course. I had been in a rut. I was stuck between several verb tenses. I keep hearing beautiful words, but didn’t know how to use them.
So I filled the last five days, mornings and afternoons, with Italian school. The classes were small; there was only one other student in my morning lesson (a 17-year-old from Australia) and I was the only student in my afternoon class.
I LOVED it. The teachers were outstanding. The time flew by.
The first couple hours focused on grammar, but it usually meandered into a history lesson instead of a worksheet. Luca has written four books on Perugia alone. He has the dirt on all the famous Italians. He knows which Popes had children and how many. He can explain all the gory details of the medieval coups and assassinations. We talked about the Borgia family, the Guelfs and the Ghibellines and, of course, the infamous Perugian Salt War. As he explained, Italian history is all about blood and sex.
Then after a short break, we would meet Sara to read and talk about contemporary Italian culture. She usually started the lesson with a magazine or newspaper story. For instance, on Monday, we read an article about Italian men and the lies they tell. Each of the many lies can be broken down into categories. I learned a lot.
First of all, there are gallant lies such as, “I am married, but one look at you and I recognize my mistake.”
Then there are social lies: “It’s not that I don’t have a job, it’s just that knowing you has turned me into a poet.”
The generous lie: “You convince me that women just get better as they age.”
There is the light lie: “I misunderstood, I thought you were going to call me.”
And the heavy lie, “Of course I’m not seeing anyone else!”
The bedroom lie: “You were really great last night” (meant to flatter and encourage).
And finally, the liberty lie, “I need to work late tonight” (meaning there’s something else I’d rather do).
We learned, however (according to the author of this article) that the best way to curb this deceitful behavior is for Italian women to take it all with a grain of salt. Recognize the underlying message and call him out on it. Watch out for the compliments, no matter how tempting. If a man doles out praise, it might be only in his own self-interest. And if an Italian claims to want you to come inside so he can show you his butterfly collection, he’s just trying to get you to watch the last half of the soccer game.
On Tuesday, we learned the words for 11 different kinds of Italian mental disorders including depressione, personalita multipla, paranoia, and bassa autostima (low self-esteem). We then explored the relationship between Italians and psychology and why they find it so shameful to see a therapist. I explained that it’s way different in the USA, and that many people I know (including the four of us) have seen a counselor or therapist at some point. Sara said it sounds like it would be super fun to sit for an hour and just talk about yourself while someone listened, but that in Italy, you are considered a nut if you go to counseling.
On Wednesday we discussed superstitions. Interestingly, “13” is considered good luck in Italy. And “17” is the most unlucky number of all. That reminded me of my recent experience at the bakery when, after taking a number and waiting for my turn, I was skipped because I had drawn a “17.” Seriously, it went from 16 to 18. I approached the counter and showed them my number. They let me order this time but encouraged me to throw number 17 away if it happened again.
In class, I learned that it’s also bad luck to wish someone happy birthday before his or her actual birthday.
It is good luck in Italy, however, if you accidently step on dog poop with your left foot.
It’s also good luck to wear a little red pepper (called a cornetto) around your neck to ward off negative energy.
On Thursday we talked about contemporary Italian directors. We discussed Roberto Begnini, the director and actor from the film Life is Beautiful. This country is crazy for him. I hear his name more than any other. He is probably one of the most famous people over here. Later we talked about music and listened to songs by Edoardo Bennato, the “Bob Dylan of Italy.”
We wrapped up the week with short film from the 1990s called No Mamma No, a story illustrating the relationship between Italian men, their mamas, and food.
During my week at this school, a member of the faculty asked if he could interview me for the school’s blog. It basically consisted of my reasons for being here in Perugia as well as some questions about my feelings on Italy. I got my revenge on Tom’s middle school teachers when they asked me what my least favorite thing about Italy was. The article was posted later that evening.
One week might not seem like much, but I felt I learned a ton. I’m committing to at least one more session before the end of winter.