Shannon and I were in the kitchen last night when Marina opened the balcony door and whispered, "You guys have to come out here now."
We gave each other strange looks but joined her on the balcony facing the courtyard.
She didn't say anything, just took a big breath and smiled. We breathed in as well. Oh, that's why we had to come out: one of our neighbors was cooking again.
This happens, well, pretty much every night I guess. If we go out on our balcony we can smell whatever is cooking in the apartments around us. And the smell is always heavenly. Last night it was steak, but other nights it's been fish or pasta or...whatever it is, we want some. If it weren't for the language barrier we could ask them what they are making and how to make it...or if we could have a taste.
Then again, if it wasn't for the language barrier we could do a lot of things. We've made the transition and gone through the culture shock period but language is the one hurdle we will never clear, at least not in one semester. I would say that's the toughest part about being here. When we make a cultural faux pas we can't just explain it away--because they don't understand our explanations. The language barrier also makes it harder to meet people here--especially since Rome is such an old city and they tend to reject anything foreign or new (even Francesca, the 16-yr. old Roman I tutor thinks so).
Eating out, getting groceries, riding the tram--we've figured out how to do all of these things, but it's still obvious that we're outsiders because of the language differences. When we ask if we should just sit down in a restaurant or wait to be seated we get blank looks or eye rolls. When the grocery cashiers realize we are American they simply point to the total on their screen instead of telling us what we owe.
It's gotten better since we've been here, don't get me wrong. People actually ask "scendi?" on the tram to ask if I'm getting off at the next stop and sometimes the cashiers tell me in Italian how much I owe--especially when they see my handful of change. (Italians love change and smaller bills. Have I mentioned that? Once I had a ten and two fives when my total came to nine something...I started to give her the ten but she shook her head and asked for the two fives instead...I don't know.)
So there are ups and downs. And if I sit and think about it, I know I wouldn't want to study abroad in a country where they spoke English. It really is fun listening to the Italians and learning a new language, especially when that language happens to be la bella lingua.
On another note: We are midway through the semester! Wow. And midway through midterms week, which is part of the reason I'm on here...as a break from studying ancient Roman history. Wish me luck on my test tomorrow!!