Sunday, July 5, 2009
Adventures Abroad: Rome

Previous Adventures Abroad post here.

We landed in Rome after 17 hours of traveling and slowly made our way to the baggage claim.

While I've been excited about this trip, it's excitement mingled with a healthy dollop of terror. I find the thought of being in a foreign country vaguely frightening. Not because of culture shock, or pickpockets, or strange food. It's because of the language issue.

There are only about three things that I'm really good at, and communicating is one of them. Well, actually that's not true, it's not communicating in general, it's use of the English language. In English I'm clever and articulate. I'm funny. I'm persuasive.

If I have a superpower, it's probably my use of words. But now, suddenly I'm visiting a place where there is no yellow sun. I'm going to be powerless, and the thought is troubling to me.

I'm not entirely monolingual. I studied German for four years in high school, but that was a long time ago. I remember phrases like, "At least the sink still works" and "I have too many monkeys playing in my attic."

It would be hard for me to work these into a conversation even if I were going to Germany, which I am not.

Sarah has prepared herself. She listened to language tapes and bought a phrase book. She's proactive

She says, "Are you ready? Here's how you say, 'I don't speak Italian.'"

"That's a pointless phrase," I say. "Within two seconds of interacting with anyone, it's going to be blindingly obvious that I don't speak Italian. Why should I tell someone, in their own language, that I don't speak their language?"

Sarah gives me a look. She has many looks. You would too, if you had to deal with me on a regular basis.

"All I'm saying," I continue. "Is that if I'm going to learn a phrase, it should be something that communicates information that someone can't easily infer on their own. I don't need to learn how to say, 'I have a beard.' They can see that. I should learn how to say, 'I have been stabbed in the guts, and I fear my pericardium is punctured. Would you please summon an ambulance?' Or 'Where is the nearest methadone clinic?' Those might be useful."

"How about 'where's the bathroom?'" she asks.

"I can mime that," I say. "How do you say 'hookers' in Italian?"

That's pretty much where my instruction in Italian stopped.





So here I am, in Rome, walking to baggage claim, and utterly at sea.

Now normally this would be the part of the story where there's a dramatic reversal of expectation. I'm expecting things to be scary, but it's not nearly as bad as I'd feared.

Except it's just as bad as I'd feared. In fact, it's worse. After grabbing our bags, I go to the information booth to ask where I can change some currency. The woman there can't understand me, so she calls over someone else and I ask him. He points me in a direction and I wander off, feeling like a complete idiot. Not an auspicious beginning to the trip.

Another problem was that I'd been focusing on how hard it would be for me to get my point across to others. What I hadn't realized is that with no working knowledge of the language, I was effectively deaf. I can't understand a word being said by anyone around me.

This wasn't really a surprise, of course. But I was startled at how self-conscious it made me. As I walk to the baggage carousel, I pass a group of women who burst into laughter, and I become convinced that they are making fun of my shoes. I pretend that I don't notice, that I don't care. But of course I do.

I've been in another country for 20 minutes and I feel nervous and awkward. I'm confused and self-conscious. I knew there was a time difference between the US and Europe, but I didn't know it was big enough to make me feel like I'm in high school again....


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posted by Pat at

74 Comments:

Blogger Sylph said...

Everyone seems to be able to speak several languages these days. I am an exception. I speak excellent English, mediocre French and I can swear in Finnish. That is about it.

If I went to another country they would bend over, clutching their stomachs and retching with laughter at my feeble stabs at international communication.

I can hear the French people laughing now, grinning behind their croissants...

A lot of people speak English in other countries. The difficulty is finding them...

Great post.

Jemski.

July 5, 2009 1:52 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Even more useful than learning Italian phrases in Rome is learning the street routes to the places you will visit. Otherwise, be prepared to be taken the scenic route every time you catch a taxi.

July 5, 2009 2:15 PM  
Anonymous Snall Trippin said...

Hello, thank you, and one beer please worked for me. You don't drink so even easier.

Ankla: And Italian ankle. easy. (Or an Egyptian ankle bracelet)

July 5, 2009 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am studying abroad in England and a friend of mine and I went to Poland for the weekend. Everytime I ordered food I would get a chuckle out of the waiter/waitress. My friend went to a kebab stand to get a pizza baguette and they deliberately put thier version of Ketchup all over it. This next part was the worst, try going to an information desk and asking a guy were you can find feminine products nearby... now that conversation... just a little awkward, so they way that you are feeling...very relate able to others.

July 5, 2009 2:23 PM  
Blogger Tyson said...

The only other country I've been in is India, and English speakers are common enough over there that I never had any issues. My sister though went to Rome. She also doesn't speak a lick of Italian, but she said she was able to get around the city just fine. Of course, she's also one of those women who guys trip over their own feet to help. That's your problem. Try being a hot chick next time.

July 5, 2009 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Niklsa Borg said...

When I have been in France and Germany I have realised that immitating a brittish or american accent makes people monolingual. When I try somewhere else with my swedish accent everybody understand. Coincidence? I think not.

Try to speak in a way that won't make them sound stupid when they answer...

July 5, 2009 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Gryffin said...

Because going to another country in Europe is as big a deal as going into another state for us, they're all trilingual. Don't worry, I'm sure we'll be doing bilingual soon, just because of the strong Spanish-speaking lobbyist groups.

My shock was when I went to Britain and found out my direction sense needed to adjust to local. Seriously, if I lie down in a bed, I know if my head is the "wrong" direction compared to home. Britain, my wife dragged me into the Tube right away and I hadn't gotten oriented. When we came out, I couldn't have gotten back to my hotel. Now that I know and can prep, I've been fine in Saudi and India. Going to be interesting when I go someplace where English isn't spoken predominantly.

July 5, 2009 2:46 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Hope you have a nice time. In my three trips to Italy I have discovered I need only one phrase: "una coppetta con crema e uva por favore". [Many spelling apologies]

That will get you some sort of ice-cream.

Of course it helps that I have been with fluent Italian speakers, but I generally find my charades and pictionary skills enough to get by in any country with a sense of humour.

July 5, 2009 3:03 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I lived in China for quite a time. I discovered that one common greeting that I had been mispronouncing became (through the craft of my mangled Mandarin) "Happy Gang Rape!"

I would get startled looks and the like but just chalked it up to their surprise that a foreigner was speaking Chinese to them...No it was that a foreigner was hollering about gang rape to them.

July 5, 2009 3:12 PM  
OpenID christinerains said...

I get that experience living in the US. I can't understand the thick southern accents some people have around here and I end up saying something they all laugh at.

Have no worries, Pat. We all love you. You can wear whatever you want on your feet and talk gibberish, and it wouldn't matter. :)

July 5, 2009 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Being monolingual isn't good or bad, really. It's like having a nose. It simply is. Admittedly, it can be a pain in the cherries, especially if you're going on a trip to Europe...

But a Buddha in Tibet is different from a Buddha in Mexico. In Tibet, he's an enlightened man. In Mexico, he's just a fat dude with big-ass earlobes. You're a bard in the U.S. and a foreigner in Europe.

But then, you already knew that...

And as far as the shoes go, don't worry about it. Italians have no sense of style anyway.

Belbin

July 5, 2009 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... I'm sorry for you, but I promise Europe isn't that bad.
In fact, it's surprising that the woman didn't understand you, since I never had problems communicating with others in English.
Maybe you were already so nervous that you spoke thinking that they didn't understand you and that's why they didn't understand you?
It's a mistake many visitors make, to talk too slowly or something like that, and then it's somewhat funny, somewhat hard to understand. Just talk normally.
And stick to young people, they are the ones that usually speak English better.

July 5, 2009 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't let this affect your plans on a trip to Germany in the future. They love you so much over there, you'll have a permanent volunteers to translate all the snide snarky side comments being made at your expense.

July 5, 2009 4:48 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Reading the comments made me feel better.
I've never been out of the country, but my sister is married to a Mexican immigrant and lives in a house with his family. Now, I like to think I'm almost proficient at Spanish, but when I'm with my brother-in-law and his siblings I develop a bit of a ringing in my ears as I strain to keep up with them.

And it is true that it's common for Europeans to know more languages because it takes them one day to drive through three countries. I'd love to experience that sometime... but maybe I'll learn more of a language or two first >.<

July 5, 2009 4:48 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

If you speak Spanish, Italians usually understand you well enough to point you to the brothels. lol.

@ christinerains

On behalf of all the southerners who have laughed at you, I apologize. Our accents are so scorned that we should be far more empathetic. Also, one of the only good stereotypes we have is being polite...you'd think we'd try and play that up.

We do have some awesome pies as well, though.

mmmm. pie. drool.

*leaves to find pie*

July 5, 2009 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,

I'm sorry to say so, but I actually disagree with you here, Pat. Learning "I don't speak ..." or, better yet, "Do you speak english" in another language is the most important phrase that you can learn. Not because of the actual content of the phrase (you're right, that should be obvious after a very short time) but because, in addition to that, you communicate that you don't take it for granted that the other person will be able (and willing) to speak english with you. It is a form of politeness to show that you made an effort to communicate with them in their own language- and you would be amazed at how friendly previously tongue-tied people become with you after that. One of the reasons for this is that even if in your understanding their english is really good, most people are self conscious about speaking in a foreign language to someone who they know is obviously better at it, especially when they don't practice often. Hearing you stammer and stutter in their own language helps them get over the fear of sounding ridiculous themselves. Also, everyone likes to feel appreciated, and the smallest effort in speaking their language makes a lot of people then fall over themselves to help you in english (possibly also in order to show of a bit...)- which helps a lot in your case, but is actually very vexing when you are trying to learn the language in question....
Anyways, I hope you're not offended by me saying this,i just think it might possibly help for your next(hopefully frequent)trips overseas.
Have a nice day,
Hanne

July 5, 2009 6:50 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

awwww pat! i wish i could have offered words of encouragement there, with you. i totally understand how that feels. i am from the US, western, upstate NY to be exact. farm country. and now I am living in Japan - NOT farm country. well not where I am at least. when I first got here it was a little daunting, but I have wanted to come for years so it wasn't so bad. the hard traveling for me was Europe and Africa, when I was younger. My family and I went to Holland, Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, and England. TERRIFYING! so I understand, the moment you step off the plane you are utterly lost. Also Africa was terrible because it was even more hard to understand. Being a linguist, I understand that at least in Europe, those countries I listed in particular, as well as Spain and Italy, speak Germanic and the Romance Languages. at least, ever so slightly easier to understand as an English speaker than say, Swahili. Point is, I know where youre coming from!

And after that outrageous and pointlessly written bit of empathy, I would like to say that your post was funny and witty as usual, and thank you for sharing it! you really do seem to know how to embrace that humor with Sarah, huh? :) la prostituta, anyone?

July 5, 2009 7:08 PM  
Blogger logankstewart said...

Interesting post, Pat. Like yourself, I'm quite monolingual, unless you consider Pig Latin, which I don't, and some odd bits of broken Spanish from high school, which I don't. But, hey, look on the bright side: you were in Rome.

July 5, 2009 9:10 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Aw, now I *really* need to know what kind of shoes you are wearing!

I agree with anonymous, that "I don't speak..." whatever language is more important than you think. In Paris, I learned several phrases to get me around, but not much beyond a handful of sayings. The problem arose when someone assumed I knew way more than I did, and started rapid firing French in my face. Being able to communicate "me dumb" in French helped stop them.

If you can, head your book tour over to Reykjavik, Iceland. It's the most incredible city and the people are so so awesome. Almost everyone speaks English, they love Americans, they're totally quirky & weird in all the best ways, and gnomes & faeries are a huge part of the culture....I'm telling you, it's completely wonderful.

Have a great rest of your trip, and relax!

July 5, 2009 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been said that merchants are more likely to admit to speaking English if you try a few other languages first - Tagalog, perhaps. Or one of the Pama-Nyungan variants.

Not being able to _read_ was what dropped me for a loop - the signs didn't even use familiar letters. Ick.

July 5, 2009 9:25 PM  
Anonymous LordMortimur said...

What the heck is a pericardium? Is it common knowledge? Am I the only one who doesn't know what that is? Should I have just pretended to know and move on? Now I'm just rambling, straying from the true purpose of this comment. Ahem. Your beard is badass.

July 5, 2009 10:06 PM  
Blogger Murdoc said...

My guess is that you found the rest of the country relatively easy to speak to. At least I did, when I toured Italy a few years back. It seemed like everybody, from shop owners to random street vendors (like those guys selling all the identical pressed marble statuettes that look so cool buy are obviously mass produced in a factory--you know that ones I'm talking about) spoke a fair amount of English.

And hey, if all else fails: point and make noises. It worked for pre-language man, and dammit if it doesn't still work today.

Hope your gelato was delicious, Pat. Look forward to reading about the rest of your adventures across the pond.

July 6, 2009 12:07 AM  
Blogger Veronica said...

Enjoy Rome! I've never been, but I've always wanted to visit.

I'm currently in Japan for the week, so reading your post made me feel a little better that someone out there in the world feels the same way I do right now.

This is my third time here, though, and I agree with some of the above commenters... being able to say "I don't understand Italian (French, Japanese, whatever)" is very important, and goes a long way towards endearing yourself to the people you're trying to communicate with.

Also learn how to ask where the bathroom is and how to order a cup of coffee :)

July 6, 2009 12:19 AM  
Blogger marky said...

They must have been some shocking shoes for the Italians to laugh at them.

Did you have a couple of dead hamsters on your feet or something?

WV: Nathmons - A bearded fellow was today being hunted by the Italian police. He is described as large and hairy, and sporting a bright red pair of nathmons.

July 6, 2009 2:17 AM  
Blogger Thesandwich said...

Awesome blog, the only one I've read ever. Downloaded that RSS thing just so I can know when you update. You are right, you're articulate, but you still have traits that we all relate to. Going to exotic places is not an adventure, it`s just traveling to a place where you are awkward and everything is vaguely unsettling, or even frightening in some unnameable way. I am lucky enough to be able to communicate in French, but I differentiate communication from conversation. Conversation is a social activity, communication, what I do in French, is just the ability to exchange information. Still it's handy.

July 6, 2009 2:29 AM  
Blogger Susanne said...

Great post. I have to end my lurkerdom on your blog in order to agree with Hanne that learning how to say that you don't speak a language, preferably accompanied by an apologetic smile, can go miles towards people's favourable disposition towards you.* ("At least you're making an effort" and variations thereof.)

*Depends on the country, of course. As a German, I think I speak for a large part of our populace if I say that we're often delighted when someone doesn't speak German - because we get to practice English that way.

I have, however, been told that the French take some offense if you just address them in English and expect them to understand you, so I've learned to say (but not write, apparently) 'Je suis desole, je ne parle pas Francais' and am ready to deploy that at will. I can also say this in Spanish and Russian, just in case.

Look forward to the next installment of your adventurings!

July 6, 2009 5:32 AM  
Anonymous Federico said...

you indeed have been quite unlucky to get immediately in airport someone who doesn't understand english!(usually,the cv for airport works requires english language knowledge). About the visiting foreign country debate,think that at least an english speaking tourist will always find someone to speak with (or indications in double language),but how many chances does a French or an Italian have to find them,abroad? (a shock when i went to Eire,thinking i could nearly normally communicate,and heard gaelic...worst than deaf).

Hope you enjoyed the Europe visit and the cultural shock! (but we'll see,won't we?)

July 6, 2009 5:36 AM  
Blogger zandi said...

Happy to go as a translator in italy or France anytime- somehow I suspect you could find many such volunteers though if you crook your little finger...

July 6, 2009 6:27 AM  
Blogger Vulpes Fulva said...

In Paris, my friends and I tried to eat at this funky little restaurant/bar. When we first walked in, the manager (I assumed by his dress) started to walk us to a table. He turned and asked us something in French, probably if a specific table was okay. Then my friend Luke spoke up, saying something like Merci. Like the rest of us, Luke's accent sucked. The manager then proceeded to push us out of the door, saying "Sorry, we're closed," in heavily accented English. Grungy college-aged Parisians laughed at the situation while they perched on their stools.
That was quite a wake-up call. Up until then, I didn't think there was anything to the anti-American talk I had heard of France.
Pat, I feel your pain.
However, all the people in Italy (at least Rapallo and Rome) were extremely nice and worked with me to discover what I was talking about, though I didn't speak much Italian at all.
-Trey

July 6, 2009 7:18 AM  
Blogger ripshin said...

Pat,

Don't sweat it that you can't communicate with the fill-in-the-blank-ers in their own language...just be sure to appreciate their efforts to speak English with you. That's what I do, anyway, when I have to travel in a country whose native tongue I don't speak. Recognizing the effort that another makes is simply polite and is always appreciated...at least in my experience. You may not be speaking their language, but at least you'll be communicating.

Of course, you have to remember, that even when you do speak the language, you may not be actually communicating with them. I travel often to France and Belgium, and since I try to speak French with my colleagues, I have committed more linguistic faux-pas than you can imagine. In fact, the very first formal dinner that I participated in (in France) I attempted to thank the waitress in French...you know, "Merci beaucoup." Except, I didn't say, "mare see bow coo," I said, "mare see bow cue." Apparently this slight pronunciation difference turned my polite expression of gratitude into a...umm...compliment. Literally it means, "Thanks, nice a$$." Despite my extreme embarrassment I learned very quickly that the ability to laugh at my own linguistic ability, and not retreat from it in fear, was probably the most important thing I could do.

rip

WV: mentonic - A before dinner drink, or aperitif, containing quinine and mint.

July 6, 2009 7:31 AM  
Anonymous Light said...

After all the other great comments, there really isn't much to say, but I just want to mention something which may make you feel better. If you know others don't understand English, you can still use your superpower to your benefit (or at their expense), you'd just be...undercover. If you can't confront those women who are possibly laughing at your shoes (since they can't speak or understand the most important language in the world, the one Pat speaks), you can use creative English language and laugh at their bags.

Enjoy yourself on the trip, you don't need words for everything. You can see the beauty of Rome, taste the good food, hear the music, and generally have a good time. Sometimes for communication words are unnesessary.

I hope you have a lot of fun.

July 6, 2009 8:21 AM  
Blogger marky said...

Pat est, DEJA ACCUEIL!!

July 6, 2009 8:42 AM  
Blogger James said...

I just finished reading Name of the Wind for the second time and am anxiously awaiting volume 2. I'm subscribed to your RSS and enjoy reading your comments. A couple of things popped into my mind while reading your post today.

1) I took 2 years of German in high school, almost 25 years ago. I remember how to count to 1000 and say manure pile. I had a neighbor teach me how to say "come here with your panties in your hand," but how often does that come up in conversation?

2) My wife and I went to New Zealand for our honeymoon 4 years ago. They speak English but with a "funny" accent (as does my wife, who is from New Zealand). Even though they spoke English, they still laughed at me when I spoke. It's not just the non-English speakers that do it.

Keep up the great posts. They are very entertaining to read.

July 6, 2009 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should be glad that your mother language is English. You never have to feel stupid if others don't understand you. It's not your problem that they were to lazy to learn English properly. I mean, it's a subject at school everywhere around the world. If I talk or write in a foreign language, I always feel quite uncomfortable, because I can't tell whether I make mistakes or not (I hope I did not make any in this post.) But after all, it's my own fault if I make a fool out of myself.
Concerning the Italian English: During my whole life, I´ve only met one Italian who spoke a perfect English. Like the Spanish, they've got big difficulties with the pronounciation (hopefully, I did spell that word correctly). Another reason why they can't understand you might be your American accent. We in Austria learn British English, so it takes a little while to get used to the American way of talking.
Well, probably I've made a fool out of myself now by writing in English, but sometimes I can't avoid it. There has to be a reason why I took the effort to learn it.
Have fun in Rome.

July 6, 2009 10:32 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This post made me think of recent job interviews. Did you know the newest thing in interviewing is to ask what kind of Superhero you would most like to be?

So you could possibly be "Captain Verbosity," or "The Articulator" or "Articulato." Hmmmm.... Who would be your arch enemy? What a nice way to get the brain working again on Monday morning after a weekend of "Super" fun.

I do believe you have a superpower in your use of language. I enjoy reading your blog every week. Thanks for sharing your gifts (or superpowers) with us.

July 6, 2009 11:04 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Here, as with so much else, Sarah seems the voice of wisdom. You should at least learn to say you don't know how to speak...and probably you could try to learn more? Like, how to speak...a little? Most people who are good in their own language are good at learning other languages. And learning other languages makes you better in your own. Just sayin'.

July 6, 2009 12:02 PM  
Blogger gatinha said...

If The Articulator was your superhero name then your arch enemy would probably be called Dr.Mute or something like that...you could have a sidekick called Eddie, or - as his fearful enemies would call him - The Editor...

I agree with some of the previous posts: Knowing a couple of words in the language of the country you're planning to visit is always useful, even if the phrase itself might be stupid... people will realize that you're making an effort and they will appreciate it.
Take Superman as an example: Everybody could tell that Clark Kent was just Superman with glasses, but they gave him credit for trying anyway!
So if a pair of nerdy glasses can be Supermans disguise, so could "Ich habe zu viele Affen auf meinem Dachboden" be yours, right? :)

BTW, I really love your blog!!!

July 6, 2009 12:47 PM  
Blogger Chiara said...

Pat, I can understand you very well!!
When I came to live in Germany three years ago I couldn't speak a single word and everything that people said around me (or TO me!) was nothing but noise!! It was horrible!

By the way, since I'm Italian *cough* should you need a guide next time, just let me know ;P

July 6, 2009 1:53 PM  
Blogger Britain said...

When I arrived in Rome when i went abroad a few years ago, I tried asking a man behind the desk where I could purchase a ticket for the train. I asked if he spoke English and the man leaned forward and looked to his left, then to his right and whispered in his Italian accent "We all speak English here, but don't tell anybody."
The man then returned to his normal sitting position and then pointed at the ticket counter.

Don't let them fool you. They know what you're saying.

July 6, 2009 3:39 PM  
Anonymous Robertk said...

The fact that Kvothe knew enough rudimentary language skills to let someone know he couldnt converse fluently earned him a notch in my book. It made him more worldly and interesting. Not to mention the lockpicking, pickpocket and manipulation that was so expected of Kvothe.

This may be out of place but I have a question. Is the "Road to Levinshir" from the second or third book?

If that would reveal too much please disregard..

Bob

July 6, 2009 4:23 PM  
Blogger bugdog said...

My husband was stationed in Berlin for four years. He says it was three years before anyone informed him that he was not actually ordering two scoops of ice cream, but rather two scoops of squirrel.

I also have a friend who used to travel to Mexico and had two stock phrases in Spanish - I don't speak English and My room is full of little trucks. This worked just fine for him.

July 6, 2009 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Jeremy said...

The more humble/polite you are in asking the question, the harder someone will work to help you. Attempting to speak the language goes a long way. Assuming everyone else speaks English works against you in a big way (even if they speak it well). You'll get farther by learning how to say "good morning" (buongiorno), "hello" (ciao), "good evening" (buona sera), and "do you speak English?" (lei parla inglese?) than anything else. Also, know how to address people - Signori (sir), signora (ma'am/madam), signorina (miss) and use them. More often than not, if you approach someone and say "Buongiorno signori, lei parla inglese?" they'll bend over backwards to help, even if they only know a little English.

July 6, 2009 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Kirk said...

The monolingual americans...

A number of years ago I was vacationing in the caribean, and yes everyone spoke english there, it was interacting with some of the other tourists that was quite enlightening. I was sitting between a german couple and a group of canadians at a beachside tiki bar. The conversation drifted to the topic of language education and I mentioned that while it is generally accepted that it is easier to learn languages at a younger age, our school didn't offer any foreign language classes until high school. One of the canadians responded that this was part of a nationalist policy to limit exposure to foreign cultures among young children. Remember how much you learned about Columbus as a youngster and how little the french and spanish explorers were mentioned? At least the Germans said I had a great accent when I blew the dust off the limited German I could recall.

Herr Huxman would probably be proud that you remember two german phrases, he never did set the bar very high.

July 7, 2009 2:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't worry, I felt the same way on my first trip to Rome and actually refused to leave the hotel the first night. just relax -- they've been having tourists there for centuries and know how to deal with us!

PS I also took German in high school (for five years) and can say things like "it sounds like the grandmother is sawing wood, so loud has she never snored before."

July 7, 2009 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor Sarah...

huh, poor you too. I think I know how it feels when you pass someone and they're with their friends and they laugh as you pass by, and you know they're making fun of you but you try not to care, but really you do care and can't help but feel...well...buggered.

Cheer up, they don't have as many, (if any), fans as you do and all of them are your support.

**You should totally apologize to Sarah and take her seriously for more than a minute...or treat her to ice-cream or dark chocolate...which totally erases anything unhappy-like...cha.

July 7, 2009 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Elspeth said...

Gee, am I the only one who has never left the country? Well, except to sort of just step across into Canada... or, gee I guess I did go to Acapulco once, and do international waters count... wait, what was the question again?

July 7, 2009 2:05 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Hi Pat -

My old elementary school gave us a "latin day" in 4th grade to help expose us to the root of our language, and to stir up some interest in the coursework down the road. I can still remember the most important phrase they taught us - Canis est in via. The dog is in the street. At least that might help SOMEONE whose pup got loose... Too bad Latin is a dead language.

I'm sorry you felt so self conscious.... Tho I panicked a bit in reading this, wondering if you guys got the link to a list of Money Exchanges I sent before you left. I hope you picked up a beautiful set of italian handmade shoes (for Sarah, of course! ;o) ) to help you feel better on your travels!!

July 7, 2009 2:17 PM  
Blogger Jaime said...

If you learn nothing else of a language, please, thank you, and excuse me are the three phrases you SHOULD learn, as I have found it generally creates significant goodwill - a useful thing if you are a lost/confused tourist. There are the occasional people who will roll their eyes and say the equivalent of "f**king Americans," but most people LOVE it when you make even the minimum effort to address them in the local tongue, even if they immediately switch to English for your benefit.

(she says, at present teaching herself a little Dutch for a trip this fall, and specifically trying to learn phrases that don't include that phlegmy G!)

If you haven't read Mark Twain's essay on the German language, I suggest you do so - everyone I know who's ever studied German as a second language thinks it's hilarious, because it's ALL TRUE.

July 7, 2009 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ask questions of young people. They'll speak English. If they look like they're over 30, move on.

July 7, 2009 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Jtoons said...

I spoke Italian.

Once.

After which there was an amendment to the Italian Constitution. It read something like this...

"Any botched, butchered, or miserably horrible attempted at speaking Italian will be punished by a de-tonguing of the most severe kind."

I have since refrained from attempting any foreign languages, but only of course out of respect for foreign governments. If, by barely speaking a language, I could amend a foreign constitution imagine what I could do if I were fluent in said language...

July 7, 2009 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pat, I just hit page 250 of The Name of The Wind and laughed myself silly when I got to "Rian, would you please cross your legs" Dr.Vickers asked the 6 Wharton female freshmen in 1960 exactly the same question - with the "gates of Hell" answer.... Are you a Wharton grad? It's a long time but a moment I cannot forget.
Priscilla Feeney twoclus@sccc.tv

July 7, 2009 5:01 PM  
Anonymous maarten said...

Pat,

is it me or is the ammount of post's increasing by the month?
About the whole language thing. I believe Hanne said the exact right thing. Making the effort is all there is to it. In most countries it's appreciated. So just give it a try.
Oh and Chris. I don't know where you from, but please leave the whole fashion thing alone. I believe the Italians invented that sh!t.
Pat, I'm looking forward to read about how you survived Amsterdam. If you'll ever get the time again, try to visit more than Amsterdam. Holland has so much more to offer than that.

July 7, 2009 6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I'm going to be forced to agree with the majority, and follow the logic of learning a few phrases in another language. I took a few years of high school Spanish and can at least say things like "hello" or "my name is" and my personal favorite "where's the library". It also helps if you can say things like "shut your mouth" in French or vile things about someones mother in Russian.

July 7, 2009 6:58 PM  
Blogger James Thelman said...

Being a superhero ain't what it used to be. Back in the day, just flying around and catching buses out of the air was good enough to impress the masses. NOW you have to be all politically correct and multilingual and bathe with some frequency. I'm sorry to say it, but that's how it is, my friend. The world is a cold, hard place. I always find that tipping a massive boulder into a ravine always makes me feel a little better. Tip from your ol' pal, James.

July 8, 2009 12:52 AM  
Anonymous Vasko said...

I notice your same feelings in our own country, being in TX obviously we have lots of hispanics around here and most of them "don't know english". I put that on quotes because its my understanding from other hispanics that the good majority of them understand us, and can speak perfect English, but choose not to.

People around here often find it rude when they speak spanish infront of them, and believe they are being talked about right infront of their face. The sad thing is I have heard several stories where they actually are doing just that beliveing that americans are too stupid to know their language. It makes me very nervous about going to non english speaking countries.

July 8, 2009 4:37 AM  
Anonymous Miriam said...

Two things.
1. Not to harsh your island vibe all too much, but I just wanted to let you know that the lack of a second book is forcing me to resort to reading inferior fantasy and I was just wondering, do you really want that on your conscience?
2. You reference whores quite often for someone who is an advisor to a Feminist group.

July 8, 2009 5:22 AM  
Anonymous TC BigPants said...

Hi Pat,

I just got back from Rome. It was amazing. I got engaged while I was there. Which means very little to you, but a lot to me.

Just know that it is all up hill from here. The airport in Rome was the worst. A complete, jumbled nightmare (just wait until you try and leave), but the rest of it was cake and nearly everyone speaks English well enough to help you get by. Enjoy.

July 8, 2009 7:26 AM  
Blogger Martin Seeger said...

If you want to know what can go wrong with your luggage during a trip, you should try to watch United Breaks Guitars. One of the best customer complaints i've ever seen and quite a catchy one.

CU, Martin

July 8, 2009 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Heike said...

I'd really like to see that German textbook of yours! "Ich habe zu viele spielende Affen auf meinem Dachboden." *lol* How very useful... but maybe more fun than my English textbooks have been in Germany.

@Jaime: I've just read that Mark Twain essay! *lol* And as a German I have to admit, most of it is acctually true.

I'm currently on a research exchange in Finland. Finnish has 15! cases, so don't complain about our 4 and someone told me, that the longest word in the Guiness Book is acctually a finnish one....
But I guess, I'm far better off in Finland as Pat was in Rome. The English of most people here is amazingly brilliant and some even speak some German. And: I was picked up at the airport on my first day and did not have to change some money thanks to the Euro! I'm still trying to learn some Finnish, but those long words are really hard to remember (even for a German...)and I don't even think of starting on that 15 cases thing. Who would guess that the Finnish word for University is "Yliopiston". Took me a while to locate it on the map...
@Sylph: I'd like to learn to swear in Finnish...

I agree with most people here, that it is important to now at least a few words of the language when you are in a foreign country, especially when you are stuck there for 3 months like me... and I think most people feel uncomfortable talking English when confronted with an English native (at least I do....).

But guess what?! I'm staying in Turku in South West Finland and guess how the University Chemistry Building is called: "Arkanum"
I am a Chemist but I'm mainly working at the Institute of Biotechnology which is located in a different building, but at least I can claim, that I've been to the "Arkanum" ;-)))

Love your Blog!

Heike

July 8, 2009 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Rachael said...

I actually just returned from a three week trip to Colombia, and I speak NO Spanish. I also came to realize that saying "I don't speak Spanish" (in spanish of course) doesn't help at all. Everytime I used that phrase, a stream of complex and completely incomprehensive words would continue to come forth, leaving me even more frustrated! The language barriers were definately the most humiliating part for me during my trip. But I hope you still enjoyed your time out of the country!

Rachael

p.s. Love your blog :)

July 8, 2009 10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm hungry.

July 9, 2009 12:14 AM  
Blogger Nolan said...

I just got back from Rome last week, and felt the same way. I always feel horrible when I go to a new country and can't speak the native language, but I find it incredibly relieving to see how prevalent English really is.

I would love to have the time to learn the languages of the countries I visit, but I simply don't have that amount of time; although it gives me a deep respect for those who do. One thing I have noticed is that if you "try" to speak the language and learn all the polite phrases, folks will understand you want to see their country, not ruin it, and give you a hand. Some of the best advice I can give about that is just to attempt the accents, inflections and cadence of the speakers. They appreciate it and are more apt to help. It is all about mutual respect, IMO.

July 9, 2009 5:01 PM  
OpenID MeetwoodFlac09 said...

This has probably already been communicated to you, but I don't have time to read all the comments. Please, take your time with book 2, I don't mind....I want the end product to be written by the guy that wasn't famous instead of the one zooming around the world. And lastly, I just finished book 1 last night....so I don't have to wait near as long as these other schmucks....heh heh heh....I enjoy your work Mr. Rothfuss...you seem like a good guy. Best wishes, Mike~

July 9, 2009 5:23 PM  
Anonymous Riccardo said...

The paradox is that you English speaking people are the fortunate ones. Tray to imagine the Japanese visiting our country !! (perhaps they are more resigned to the incommunicability problem).
However I hope the good nature if not the good language of the Italian people was helpful (as usual we are at the same time embarrassed of our incapacity to speak or understand English and very eager to tray to be helpful).
Let me assure you trying to speak a bad Italian English in another country in Europe (trying to bypass the inability to speak es. French) does not a very good also !

July 10, 2009 6:24 AM  
Blogger Decemmie said...

Hi,

Not related to your European trip, other than the fact I am in London and was too busy reading your book to find out that you were in town. Oops!

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the first book. I had an unprecidented experience with The Name of the Wind. I bought it on the recommendation of my little brother who is an aspiring author, sat down with it at the end of a long annoying day when I was tired and just wanted to check out for an hour or two … read the first page … and put it back down again. That’s the first time I have ever done that - it was too good to waste on that frame of mind. Kind of like sitting down starving in front of a meal, shovelling in the first bite and then realising the food is so good that you need to sloooooooooooooooow down.

So, thank you for such a beautiful work. I am looking forward to the next installment when the time comes but agree with (most of) your other commenters. I may be fizzing with impatience but the absolute and only priority is that you get the time and space to create the book as it ought to be. Good things come to those who wait.

decemmie

July 10, 2009 8:32 AM  
Blogger andreaquist said...

I just wanted to day that I was tricked! Tricked, I tell you! I've been in a reading slump lately-books just aren't living up to my (high) expectations. So I googled "Top 25 fantasy novels" and not surprisingly, To Name The Wind was on there.

And then the trick: Right next to the pic of that book is another pic: Wise Mans Fear. So i got all excited thinking YAY!!!! The next book is done!!!! Woo hoo! I then frantically started googling to see how I could get this new book in my hot little hands, only to find it does not yet really exist.

*sigh*

No pressure or anything, but anxiously awaiting it's arrival down here in Northern Illinois. Yeah, I'm a FIB. Please don't hold it against me.

July 10, 2009 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The german phrase I can't forget is "If I only had diarrhea..."

July 10, 2009 9:50 PM  
Anonymous Light said...

Thanks for the interview video! You are erudite.

...I will also have to learn to pronounse Kvothe's name properly now that I know how it sounds.

July 11, 2009 3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I'll wait to have another chance to meet you and your lady till I have my own baby...
I hope Italy didn't scare you so much you won't come again

Giuls

July 16, 2009 2:37 PM  
Blogger Christian said...

Great story. Reminds me of my trip to Japan, where I felt pretty much the same. At one point I was trying to buy food and the girl asked me a question and I just kept trying to hand her the money. Eventually I figured out she was asking me what kind of soda I wanted.

July 16, 2009 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting that you equated not having a working knowledge of the language as being deaf. Communication barriers define the interaction between a deaf person and the rest of the world. It goes so far beyond the mere inability to hear.

Now, whether you meant to make such a profound, perceptive statement about deaf people, I don't know... but me gusta!

July 17, 2009 10:03 PM  
Anonymous Martin said...

Dear Mr. Rothfuss, well at least now you can imagine, how spectacular and mystique had been to me seeing the first epizodes of Star Wars in English during the eighties, I had been 7 yrs old Czech guy (Czech is a rather small country in the middle of Europe, although we think it is quite well known, I found that especially in U.S.A. is not so) and my knowledge of English was zip. I would like to invite you to visit the Prague next time you will try to cross the Atlantic, but I am afraid, we still cannot offer you fluent English speaking citizens, who will help you with common everyday problems in foreign country (we are trying to educate ourself, but it takes some time), so it would be an adventure almost like in Italy. Thanks for your will to share with us - your readers - your fantasies and know, that even here in Czech you have lot of fans who are trembling in awaiting of new adventures of Kvothe.

July 26, 2009 12:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mmk sooo im sure this isnt where i should post THIS comment but the last one i wrote took an hour it was soooo long n my comp dies :'(
so basically i wanna say...
PAT I FUCKIN LOVE U!!!!!
and ur writing is better than dantes inferno and the odyssey combines and i believe they should make children read it because its the best piece of literature in the world!!!

July 29, 2009 1:34 AM  
Blogger Natasha said...

I live in Denmark (A rather small country which, no, is not the capital of IKEA, thank you very much) and here, we speak Danish. Linguists say that it's one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, to teach and to be taught. I don't know as I've been fluent since I was about 10.

I'm pretty much fluent in English, I understand German perfectly - if spoken slooooowly! - and I am terribly horrible at Spanish.

My point is that if you live in a small country and learn a language from birth that no inhabitants from other countries understand, you are somehow forced - or you have to, at least - learn a different language (or several) in order to communicate with Americans, English, French, Germans or others. It's an absolute necessity (I don't think that's properly spelled.. There goes my credibility. Sorta :D).

Anyways. Love the book. Take your time and tweak it into perfect-hood (U-huh. Perfecthood is now officially a word!) and give it to us eager readers when it's done :D

November 19, 2009 3:36 PM  

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