Friday, May 20, 2011


For years I have prided myself on being pretty proficient in the languages that I taught. I am able to discuss politics, argue over gun control, make purchases of arcane hardware supplies and handle less than polite store clerks. I can tell stories and talk about books and films. But I can't banter. I don't know what it is, but engaging in small-talk and playful banter is proving to be difficult to me. Perhaps the problem is that I'm not a great small-talker in English. I tend to find myself tongue-tied in many social situations, even with friends I have known for years.
In language teacher parlance, you can't do in L2 what you've not been able to do in L1, so perhaps my inability to engage in casual chatter is more a basic lack in my own communication skills. But it is bothering me more and more this year.
I went for a mani-pedi the other day, and once we had finished talking about the weather, it was hard to get a conversation going. Eventually, the girl began talking about her fiance and her upcoming wedding, and I was able to get involved in that thread.
I struggle with letting myself loose, grammatically. There is a change in tone here, some common grammatical mistakes that everyone makes that sets everyone on common ground. And I am trying to be sure that I use the imperfect subjunctive correctly!
The dialect spoken here in Cervinara is basically a Napolitano variation, and I've never been able to make those sounds come out of my mouth. Couple that with the vocabulary that is unique to Cervinara, and the common history that most people share, and I will always come across as the outsider.
I wish I could just open my mouth and have funny "bons mots" come out, but I don't think it's ever going to happen. I guess I'll have to resign myself to being the foreigner who tries hard but never quite gets to the point of being able to joke around with folks and is able to really relax during conversations. I suppose being the grammar queen isn't all bad, but I do wish I could laugh it up with other ladies in the beauty salon or at the bar and stop being so darned up-tight!

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