I’ve had locals laugh in my face twice now.
The first time was my virgin attempt at the Italian language. I’d heard the waitress at the coffee stand use a delicious ‘Grrraaat-zi’ at the end of every order and thought I’d give it a go with the girl behind the counter at the public transport desk after we bought our tickets. It’s nerve-wracking speaking another language you don’t actually know anything about. Personally, it all has to do with accents. I love rolling my rr’s. It’s a huge source of disappointment to me that English has no rrr-rolling, hence why I’m trying to learn Spanish. Any opportunity I have to roll my rr’s, I take; I just love how it feels on the tongue. You feel like a bit of a nuff doing it in Australia though, like “Look how cool I am, I can say the word with the proper accent.” So I usually don’t. The question is, once you’re actually in the country and clearly a foreigner, how hard are you allowed to roll your rr’s??? What about the lyrical Italian lilt that peppers every word, as if it is being picked up then dropped back down again? Do you say the word casually like you’re a pro or make eye contact, smile as you say it and intone slightly up at the end as if asking a question; “I’m a stupid tourist, is this how I say this basic simple word in your language?”
I end up opting for the casual, full rrr-rolling version. Mistake. After speaking in a heavily Australian-accented English for the past 3 minutes, I was clearly a novice. Possibly my slight breathlessness at actually speaking another language to a local in another country gave it away as well. I was rewarded with a smirk and then an outright laugh on eye contact and walked away blushing.
The second local laughing at me was worse though. I’m almost too embarrassed to tell this story but it’s possible my life purpose is to serve as a warning to others, so here goes. We were in San Marco Square, the main tourist attraction in Venice, when I approached three young people in orange ‘San Marco’ shirts and asked them the way to Doge’s Palace; the second most famous tourist attraction in Venice. Now I’m curious to know, Australian readers, how you pronounced ‘Doge’s’ in your head. Possibly some of you who took History class in school know the right way to pronounce it. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not ‘Doe-g-z’ with an ‘o’ like ‘throwes’, a hard-g and ‘z’ sound for the s. “Doagz…” The three Italians stared at me for a second, confused. So I made that classic foreigner faux pas of repeating your stupidity in a slightly louder tone. ““do-jshes?” the girl finally asked with a beautiful soft d and g.
Of all the Asians attempting star jumps in front of St Mark’s Basilica, the Americans yelling their questions at retailers and the Russians buying gaudy hats and t-shirts saying ‘San Marco’, I was the stupidest tourist in that square. And there were a lot of tourists in that square. The two boys could barely contain their laughter as the girl pointed in the right direction and I slunk off with Kendyl, face burning from more than just the summer heat.
I blame the Australian education system. I am a Neanderthal.