by Emily Freisher (Temple University)
on having proper manners. If I didn’t know what I was doing or had gotten in over my head, I could always apologize; say excuse me. Thank you. They were my saving graces—my back up plan when I was confused, or even better, wrong. Yet after arriving in Italy, these basics components immediately shifted to the forfront in my communications. They became my default answers to the mumbled Italian phrases I would hear upon entering a store (for all I know, they spoke directly and articulately, but this new organization of vowels and consonants was confusing for my ears.) I kept my guard up, my frustration in, and apologized profusely for the sad lack of Italian I possessed.

Grocery shopping at home is one of my favorite things to do. Don’t ask my why—I know it’s weird. I was excited to explore the town of Cagli, but also to discover the foods; everything from fresh produce to prepackaged meals with nutritional information I couldn’t interpret. But the meat counter is another story entirely. It is by far the longest stretch of interpersonal communication you’ll find in the grocery store, often times even outlasting that of the cashiers.

After three days surviving off of paninis and pizza, I was desperate for a little protein. My roommate and I approached the counter hesitantly. I watched carefully as she used her few semesters of Italian to decode the simplistic ordering process. Here is where I realized my mistake. She certainly had a better grasp on the language than I did, but there was plenty left out in the open, still raw and untranslated. What kept her in the game (and ultimately rewarded us with a slab of sliced turkey), was the perseverance to communicate across the boundaries. Pointing, motioning, and describing are still ways of communication, and I had failed to see this. By falling back on politeness, I was being more offensive than helpful. I had never considered that manners could be a fault. Yet here it was, clear as day, marking my decision to stop trying to communicate when things got difficult. It has taken a lot to back off of my incessant ‘scusis’ and ‘grazies’, but slowly but surely I’m making progress on finding different ways to converse with a different culture.