Funny

Playing Charades with the Butcher by Brea Persing

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When you live overseas, your pride falls away when you’re learning a new language. All of the sudden you go from a competent person (in your native language) to a toddler (in your new language) in a matter of seconds. It’s VERY humbling.

Well, it was my first Thanksgiving overseas where I was going to be cooking and inviting over a host of my new friends. Plus, my Italian friends were very interested in American holidays. I was still in my first year of Italian language learning and decided I would go to the butcher down the road to get some turkey. I was advised by some friends that if I wanted a whole turkey, which I didn’t, that I would have to go about a week in advance to order it. Well, I just wanted to get the breast and thigh/leg to cook for people. To be honest, I had never cooked the whole bird before, and didn’t want to start for this event, especially if something happened and it was inedible.

I knew the word for turkey in Italian, but when I arrived at the butcher shop, I realized that I had failed to look up the words for breast and thigh. Haha, you know where this is going. There wasn’t a line, so I didn’t have time to look it up on my phone either. So I was talking to him in Italian and said I wanted turkey for Thanksgiving. He understood since he knew it was an American holiday, and apparently had had other Americans in the past order turkey from him. Well, as I said before, I didn’t know the names of the cuts. So when he asked me what cuts I wanted, I threw my pride aside pointed at my breast to indicate I wanted a turkey breast. He chucked. As did I. He then asked me if I wanted any other cuts, and again, not knowing how to say them in Italian, I grabbed my thigh and rubbed by hand down my leg to indicate I wanted the whole thigh and leg. It was HILARIOUS. 

I’m sure the other Italians in the shop were getting some serious entertainment from me. The butcher told me to come back in a few days, as he was going to order those cuts specifically for me. When I walked in a few days later, he greeted me with a smile and then chuckled, so I knew he remembered me. I mean, how could you forget that!? He showed me the turkey cuts, made sure they were around the weight I wanted, I paid, said thank you and left. It had definitely been a funny learning incident, but I left with what I wanted!

I have to say, it’s definitely one of those stories to keep for the books to share later. And trust me, I have shared this story multiple times. It never gets old.

Touchdown in Italy by Brea Persing

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I couldn’t sleep. Jet lag was taking its toll on my body and the only thing on TV was Glee dubbed into Italian. But who cared, I was finally here! As much as I loved Glee at the time, I used the time to reflect and laugh on the day’s events. 

I arrived in the afternoon after two flights that had flown me across the ocean from the USA. I was supposed to be traveling with my new colleague, but her flight to Chicago had been cancelled due to bad weather, so I embarked on the long 20-hour journey alone. But not without many goodbyes and hugs from family and friends at the airport.

This hadn’t been my first flight overseas alone, as I had studied abroad in Florence, Italy years earlier. But I hadn’t wanted to take it alone. On the flight, I sat next to a man who would be traveling on to Russia where he would be meeting a woman his family was trying to match him with as a potential wife. It was a very brief and interesting conversation to say the least. 

After arriving, I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel, as I had three large suitcases, and settled in. I didn’t have a way to contact my family or friends to let them know I had arrived, so I decided to embark on the adventure to find a shop to get an international calling card. It was January 2011, somewhat cold outside, but nothing compared to the cold I had just come from in Indiana. It felt super warm to me. So I left the hotel in a sweatshirt. As soon as I walked out, I received a lot of stares from passerby’s. They were all in super warm coats, hats, gloves and really big scarves. I was the weird outsider who didn’t have anything covering her throat, which, in their minds, would later make me sick.

I kept walking amidst the stares, and soon arrived at a Tabaccheria, a little “tobacco” shop where one buys beverages, magazine, cigarettes, bus tickets, postage stamps and so much more. Here was the problem, though I had studied Italian for a semester in Florence, and studied Spanish in high school and college, I had NO idea how to ask for an international calling card. I looked at my old language notes before I left, and I should have written it down, but I didn’t. And by the time I arrived at the shop, I had forgotten how to say it. I claimed “jet lag” for my short-term memory loss in that moment.

The lady behind the counter was very gracious. I used gestures and the limited Italian and Spanish I had learned. Finally, after 10 minutes and a man inside helping both the shop worker and I, the shop keeper finally understood what I wanted. She initially thought I wanted to buy a cell phone plan to call international, but all I wanted was a one-hour international calling card to use with a regular phone in the hotel. It was quite the sight.

I left that Tabaccheria, calling card in hand, and just laughed as I walked back to my hotel. All you can do in those situations is just to laugh at yourself and the situation, and be thankful that it all got sorted out. Frustration isn’t helpful and sets a bad tone for your trip. From there I called my parents to let them know I made it, took a nap and then woke up super hungry. I asked the person at the front desk for a good recommendation for a place to eat near the hotel. I wanted Italian food because, well, I was in Italy. I went to a place close to the Tabaccheria I had visited early, chuckled as I walked past, and went into a very small trattoria where I was welcomed with a friendly face and the wonderful aroma of baked bread.

In Italy they have different kinds of food establishments, which can be a bit confusing if you don’t understand the differences between them. The main ones are a ristorante, trattoria, pizzeria, osteria and bar. A ristorante (reese-tor-an-teh) is a regular, what many in the US would consider regular, restaurant and on the main streets, also more expensive than other food establishments. There are different levels of restaurants too, from really good and expensive to really good and not as expensive. A trattoria (trah-tor-ee-ah) is generally a small, family run place very similar to a restaurant, except it’s not on the main streets and is generally cheaper that a full blown restaurant. It generally offers items from pasta and pizza to meat and vegetable dishes. A pizzeria (pizza-ree-ah) is just want it sounds like, a pizza place. It has prices similar to a trattoria and osteria, but specializes in pizza. Note that this is Italian pizza, where nearly every one gets their own pizza, not what we consider pizza in the US. They will likely have a few other dishes to eat other than pizza, but pizza is their specialty. An osteria (oh-stare-ee-ah) is similar to a trattoria except a bit cheaper and has very limited food options and seating. From here we have a bar. This is not what you typically think of as a bar in America, though it does serve alcohol. A bar in Italy is a coffee shop that serves coffee, snacks and sandwiches.

Back to my evening, the food at the trattoria was DELICIOUS! I ordered pasta and was given free flat bread, which is very uncommon. It was so good. It was like I was in heaven. I had missed this amazing food. At the time, I didn’t have the food allergies and sensitivities I have now, or at least I didn’t know exactly what they were yet. I sat there and enjoyed the food and the ambiance of the dining room. I left with a full belly and a smile on my face. I also left really tired and hoping I would be able to get a full night sleep. 

Sadly, I did not. I got ready for bed, fell asleep, and woke up a few hours later wide awake and unable to go back to sleep. That is where I found Glee dubbed into Italian. I called a few people with the remaining amount of time I had left on the international calling card, wrote in my journal, and then read until I fell asleep again sometime in the early morning. It had been quiet the day.