Expat Life · In Italy · Wanderings

Missed Messages

Lago Varese at Gavirate

Today I had planned to meet some kind strangers from the internet to try rowing. (This is part of my strategy for making non-American friends. It will be fine.)

Then the kids put up a fight about getting to school. Then my phone stopped receiving text messages or an internet signal, and there I was, late, at the lake just out of view of the rowing place I didn’t know about, alone.

Technology failed me.

A raft of ducks shifted back and forth across the water as I berated myself for not getting an exact address yesterday. Once I drifted out of myself for a second I realized there was a pleasant commotion to it, a sound almost like gentle ocean waves, as the ducks flapped their wings and splashed into the water. (There were many ducks.)

So I sat on a dock and watched. Listened. I found gratitude for being in that moment instead of at home procrastinating on Facebook.

An Italian woman walking her dog made some exclamation to me. I gave my unmistakable dumb foreigner shrug and she repeated, “Bellissima! Septtacolare!” She approached me as I walked off the dock. I understood she was trying to ask something about beautiful photos, but… that’s as far as we got. There I was, in a beautiful moment with someone who truly appreciated it as I did, incapable of sharing it more meaningfully because I couldn’t speak her language.

I wandered a bit, half jogging, half admiring the scenery, thinking I might catch the rowing folks when they returned. Another jogger passed when I stopped to take a photo. “Hi!” he said. And instead of saying “hi” back, I just nodded and looked away. Once he disappeared around the bend in the trail, I realized that he was speaking my language. I had missed a chance to connect with another person who lives here who speaks my language. Another person who can explain to me how on earth it’s possible that the power company is actually two separate companies and you can pay one bill online but not the other. Who might know where I can buy a sectional sofa for well under 4000euro.

[There are a couple of those people in my life, thank goodness. I need to schedule some coffee dates.]

Anyway. I’ve never been much of a talker. I truly don’t understand what people stand around and talk about all the time, particularly if they don’t have something specific to say. Perhaps being a person who prefers to be deliberate in my interactions is making this language barrier extra frustrating? I can get by with all of the day-to-day stuff, using my dumb American smile at the grocery store as I fumble my words for celery and “May I please have a bag?” To not be able to communicate something I really care about? That’s a hollowness I didn’t anticipate.

It will fall into place in time.

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2 thoughts on “Missed Messages

  1. My heart hurts for you, Lynn! A friend of mine – a writer – spent two years living in Germany with her German husband and wrote about how achingly lonely it was not to be able to communicate fully. She was desperate to be able to listen in on conversations in coffee shops and the market for writing ideas and just for human contact, but she couldn’t even do that. I hope you get some of those coffee dates lined up.

  2. I can’t even imagine. I don’t even think I can brave a vacation where I wouldn’t know a single word lol. We all need that connection, and language is such a strong tie. But like you said, even similar interests are enough to tie us together, like the woman who also appreciated the scenic view.

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