I’m pleased to report that my Italian is improving. I haven’t opened any of my multitude of “Learn Italian the Easy Way” type books in several months, but being surrounded by the language, I’m starting to pick it up now and can understand a lot of what is being said. Actually speaking is a different matter. I can usually work out what I want to say, but only five minutes after I needed to say it.
The trouble is, even if I learn every single Italian word and master the grammar entirely, I still won’t ever be mistaken for an Italian because I have a dreadful affliction – I can’t roll my R’s. Worse than that, I have a soft R.
In the UK, friends would make me say words like “Brewery” and “Worral” just so that they could have a cheap laugh, but in Italy it’s actually a problem, a disability even!
A few weeks ago we went to a family wedding near Verona. It was a lunchtime only affair, so in the evening we joined a group of my wife’s cousins for a pizza. We’re all of a similar age, but still, being the only Englishman surrounded by a bunch of Italians talking very fast and very loudly can be slightly intimidating. And so it came time to order, my least favourite part. The waitress worked her way around the table, and I ran my order over and over in my head, ready for my turn. It sounded perfect. Here goes. “Una pizza Marinara per favore.” Perfect.
Blank face. She had no idea what I’d said. I repeated it. This time slightly more loudly, maybe in my shyness I had mumbled slightly. Still nothing. Third time? Nope. Eventually, my wife took pity on me and stepped in. She said exactly the same as me, except her R’s were different. They were harder, more rolly.
To compound my embarrassment, the waitress started laughing. She had finally realised what I had been trying to say and, as it turns out, it was hilarious. She even called her daughter over to “Listen to how the English say Marinara.”
The pizza was delicious by the way. But still, this is a problem. I’ve been taught a phrase: “Ramarro Marrone” which will apparently help, but it doesn’t matter how many times I say it, it still comes out wrong.
And in one final, cruel twist of fate, my name is Richard. I’m doomed.