The art museum’s alarm went off, and I happened to be behind the man who (I think) set it off. He was getting alarmingly close to a medieval painting in an art museum in Bologna, Italy. “You moron,” I thought. He lurked off, and a guard entered the room. I must have had my best “It wasn’t me” look on my face, but the female guard smiled at me and started chatting at me in fluent Italian. I was dressed up, in European art-going style.
I had zero idea what she was saying. She figured it out soon enough, and just smiled at me and said “Okay.” Problem over. That was the fourth time something like that had happened to me in less than a week. Most Americans do not go to Italy over Thanksgiving, so that was part of it. You can fool a lot of people with dress and overall appearance when you travel, too. Just keep your mouth shut, or you’ll ruin the illusion.
Feeling powerless comes with the territory of not speaking a language and being surrounded with people who do. Luckily, many Italians in major cities (or ones who work in the service industries), do speak fluent English. And they always took pity on me and my family. Every single time. People helped us when they didn’t have to: on buses, on trains, and in the labyrinthine streets. I was so grateful, and I realized how much it means to the person being aided, even if it’s a little thing.
On my home (work) turf, I routinely help people who speak no English, some English, or pretty good English (albeit heavily accented), and it’s given me new perspective on how they must feel virtually every single day.
My New Year’s resolution is to be super nice – as nice as I can be even if it’s the fifth time I’ve had to help them with the printer – to anyone and everyone who struggles with English. Te lo prometto (I promise).