i was on the train from firenze to pisa, looking as european as ever and minding my own business, when some guy that looked like a slightly better looking but slightly greasier version of Willem Dafoe came up to my quadruplet of seats.
“posso?” he asked. i motioned with my hand that he could.
“i am tire-red,” he smiled sheepishly in his broken english. i nodded. me, too.
his name was michele and he was 30-something and worked in the economic sector. he lived near spezia but had recently started working in firenze so he was making the two or so hour trek back home like he did every weekend. he wasn’t having the best time – everyone he worked with lived just outside of firenze so after work he was forced to wander the streets alone. excited that i lived in the area, he suggested we meet up in santa croce the following monday for a drink.
he: what you like to drink?
me: vino rosso
he: not cocktail?
i changed the topic. we blitzed through the places we’ve traveled and landed on me studying italian when i finally asked him, “how did you know i spoke english?”
he: (nods emphatically)
me: no, you knew i didn’t speak italian. how did you know i was not italian?
me: but how did you know?? come…sai…che io non sono italiano?
he: yes, i too like to travel…
…but this happens all the time. i enter a store and say “buon giorno” and they answer “hello.” why? why do you assume i speak english? when i speak, i know my accent is on the mark, so you have no excuse. when i am silent, my only giveaway is my light complexion, but the rare italian blonde does exist. firenze is a town consumed by tourists, however, and perhaps it is the exception and not the rule when a local walks into the pasticceria frequented by gli studenti stranieri. fine. but can you at least give me a chance?
[sidebar: the common reply is that it’s easier to do business by succumbing to english when we tourists are trying so hard but failing so miserably, and i agree – if i am struggling with something complicated (purchasing a sim card), maybe inquire if english would be preferred (thank you, Wind girl). but if i’m purchasing a dolce, throw me a bone and tell me it’s one euro in italian, okay?]