I’m not a perfezionista when it comes to speaking. I never tend to hover mid-sentence as I usually throw all my words on the table, whether in English or the other languages I study.
Whilst working as a hotel receptionist in Andalucía in Spain, it was the Italian clients who truly put me to the test; Spanish and Italian are extremely similar Romance languages, which means that mentally divorcing them can be quite an arduous task. And I’m not just referring to the accidental ‘Buenas noches señores’ to the bella figura Italian couple on floor 3.
After having got so used to the Spanish tourism vocabulary, once I started to receive phone calls from Italian clients, I soon discovered my own Spanitalian vocabularly: “Lei ha una reservazione?”, I would graciously ask down the phone. It reached the point where I had to write prenotazione on my hand in the fear of showing myself up.
Then again, I think it was probably already too late; the Sirelli family would all arrive, see ‘Francesca’ pinned to my shirt, and then I would watch their hopeful gazes turn to ones of confusion as I explained that ‘la cucina è sul quarto plano’. Once they were safely out of eyesight in the lift with their key cards, piano was also inked onto my hand.
I suppose as a receptionist it was half justified for me to experience some mix-ups. At least I was attempting to explain in a mishmash of German how the lights and TV worked to a late check-in. This is what tourism is all about, right? Trying your best to personalize each client’s experience.
However, the curse of the made-up word has stayed with me since then, and plagued me even more during my translation internship.
Telling stories in the office has made me realise that, however banal your story is, having knowledge of a vast range of vocabulary is simply essential. Unfortunately, very frequently I find myself trying to recount a situation but getting stuck as I don’t know how to say some of the most mundane words in Italian: ‘letter of complaint’ being one of the most recent ones. However, I dislike to tell a gappy story and being sat around a table flocked by fifteen hungry colleagues means that everyone’s attention span is certainly not in my favour. So, instead, I fill my blanks with what I think is right: “dovranno scrivere una lettera di lamentamento!” and “allora, puliamo questo, dove sono gli asciugamenti?”. Chins (menti) enjoy making a frequent appearance in my stories it seems. Lamentela and tovaglioli are now on a post-it on my desk.
Some of my potentially more inventive creations include: “ma guarda questo tavolo, che sporchezza!”, and “posso olfattare il tuo riso?”.
When it comes to idioms, I have to step up my game. Whilst playing calcetto (which I should also really step up my game in), I try to keep the spirits high; last week, when our opposition declared that they were going to win, I immediately shot back “non parlare troppo veloce!” just as the ball rolled straight past my goalkeeper.
Without wanting to speak troppo presto, I have faith that one day in the future I will overcome the curse of the made-up word, but for now, I will keep buttando le mie parole sul tavolo.