Sunday, December 12, 2010


In fifth grade, my mom bought me the perfect pair of new sneakers. They were white, with a little bit of navy blue. I was such a tomboy at the time that I had to buy the little boy shoes. I was so excited to sport them to school and show them off on the playground. When I went to play kickball that day, I was extra-excited because I thought they would make me kick the ball a little bit farther. When it was finally my turn to kick, I sent a shot to the far outfield (which was probably actually not that far to big people), and I ran the bases. When I got to the third base, I continued past by accident and right into a mud pile. Everyone started laughing at me, and I cried because my new shoes were ruined. I was so humiliated.

Humiliation comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be in ruining a new pair of shoes in a mud pile at recess, or it can be in being left on your wedding day (see Carrie Sex and the City 1). It had been some time since I considered myself truly humiliated, since my eyes shedded tears due to feeling entirely embarrassed for trying something I should have never tried, since I regretted trying one thing over another. But today, I felt it…and the tears that bubbled behind my eyes were hard to hold back as the man behind the bookstore counter made me feel like I was about one inch tall in this giant city that I consider more home than a place I spent four years at for college. “Don’t try to speak Italian,” he told me as I asked him if they took credit card or not… “We don’t like it.”

“We don’t like it,” I repeated in my head… ‘You don’t like me speaking your language,’ I thought to myself. And so I responded, “But I try to speak the language.” And he said, “It humiliates us…Don’t do it.” With a stern look on my face he said “Basta” told me the amount that had been put on my card and rushed me out of line.

As I walked away from the counter, lost from my two good friends, the tears started to stream down my face. The lady to the right of the mean man didn’t stand up for me, and neither did the people around me. I was just a silly American who was now banned from trying to speak the native language of Italy…I was now just the silly American who felt humiliated for trying.

It was the first time I had truly missed home since I had been here. In America, we would applaud someone for trying to speak English to us even if their language was Spanish, German, or Italian. I would help them spit the words out and let them give it a try, probably happy that they tried. And if they spoke Spanish or Italian, I would make an honest effort to try to communicate back with them since I speak broken Spanish and Italian. But I would never tell them not to try—not to want to learn. Isn’t that part of what is so grand about a new culture? Learning the language—learning the way.

As I returned home to my house family for the month, I explained what had happened. They were appalled that someone would even act that way, and they almost seemed humiliated that an Italian would be so rude to someone trying to learn the language. They reminded me that learning the language and using it is not looked down upon in this way by all Italians and to keep trying…not to let this get to me and to move on to the next opportunity to speak the language. Like the little engine that could, I continue on…without returning to that bookstore.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what the management would say if they knew their staff were talking to customers like that.