While sitting in my tourist office today in the center of Rome, a lovely French woman stepped in to ask if she could take one of our free maps. I smiled and nodded my head, motioning to the big stack of maps on the counter.
Thinking that this would be the extent of her visit, she went on to ask me where she might find a nice market nearby. Here is where it got tricky, as I needed more information in order to steer her in the right direction. The madame spoke no Italian or English, which meant that I had two options.
The Italian in me told me I should resort to hand gestures and extra loud Italian, that way she would surely get what I was trying to say. After all, Italians are the masters of getting their point across without ever opening their mouths.
The American in me, on the other hand, started getting all righteous. “Come now Danielle, didn’t you study French for four years in high school and get straight A’s?
Weren’t you the one the teacher always asked to read stories and poems in French because your spoken French sounded the least like nails on a chalkboard of all the kids in the class?
Didn’t you even perform songs in French for a singing competition?”
Yes, Yes, and Yes, it’s all true, but where did all this get me when I was in Paris 10 years ago and trying to buy a baguette, check into a hotel, or get on a train? Nowhere. I got answered in English and hurried off on my merry way. Which hurt my Sicilian pride and made me swear never to speak French again (not sure why I thought this would teach the French people a lesson) after that trip.
In that instant, with this sweet French tourist in front of me and the tables turned, I let go of the Sicilian grudge and let in the laissez-fare.
“Vous êtes à la recherche d’un marché d’alimentation ou d’un marché de vêtements?” I asked.
“Mais oui madame,” and with that I gave her instructions and she was off on her merry way to the Campo De Fiori market. As she left I realized the extent of my silliness over the past ten years. And more importantly, I officially ended my Sicilian grudge against France.
That said, it’s a good thing my French is still pretty appalling, or I may have gone into an explanation of how their Arc du Triomphe was inspired (read: copied) by Rome’s Arch of Titus. So there!
I’m looking forward to France the second time around! Next time I will try not to take things so personally.
Danielle Russo is a coordinator of Rome and Vatican Tours. She lives in Rome, Italy and you can find her at WhenInRomeTours.com.