Thursday, July 3, 2014

Return to the U.S. … and monolingualism?

I have been home for a little more than a week now and, in some ways, it feels like I never left. These days, instead of shops, fountains, and piazzas filled with people, my daily walks are witness to quiet, residential streets lined with quaint, Cape Cod style houses with perfectly manicured lawns and precious summer gardens. It sure looks different around here. I left with snow on the ground, naked trees, and an icy beach.

A view from my evening walk around the neighborhood 
Long walks to do errands in Padua have been replaced by drives around town. Instead of making sure I had comfy shoes when I arrived, I got an oil change and a carwash. Instead of walking home with gelato and people-watching, I drive home eating frozen yogurt and listening to NPR.

Visits to fruit-veggie shops with chatty owners and Italian grocery stores where you weigh and tag your own produce have been replaced by huge, cold supermarkets with isles and isles of products: 21 different kinds of toothpaste, 16 different kinds of bagged lettuce (that all taste like plastic anyway).

Uninterested, generally inefficient Italian restaurant staff are now overly friendly servers, checking in multiple times and bringing free refills. All restaurants have numerous, giant-screen TVs showing current sporting events -if we're lucky, the World Cup (broadcast in English).

Finally, the garbage has multiplied exponentially: everything from food to mail-order books to household items comes with an exaggerated amount of packaging… so does take-out food. Instead of charging extra for plastic bags, stores here give you more than you want or need to simply carry your items to the car, to then drive home, take off all the packaging, and throw it away.

Clearly, there are some cultural differences. But what about language?

As my first language, obviously, speaking English here is no problem. I only almost slipped up once, opening the door for an older gentleman at the dry cleaner and starting to say, "Signore" (but I caught myself and said nothing). I also enjoy integrating Italian hand gestures into friendly conversations.

Spanish is still a bit problematic, however, as Italian fillers like "bene" and "certo" want to interrupt my speech. I don't think I'll ever be able to say, "tranquilo" again without thinking twice (is it, /traŋkwilo/ or /traŋkilo/?).

To reactivate my Spanish, I listen to Latino radio everyday in the car (I did before, anyway), and there are plenty of Spanish speakers to talk to around here and, of course, friends. In an attempt to preserve my Italian, I am reading the translation of Tuesdays with Morrie, which I brought from ItalyI also chat with Italian friends on Facebook, write emails, and dream.

Yes, bilingualism is still a dream: every night, Italian sneaks in. Apparently, language is not something you can leave behind. You pack it in your suitcase and take it home with you. The journey of multiculturalism and multilingualism continues.