Italian, but not as we know it

From the comments at Tim Worstall’s:

I think I’ve said this here before, my late missus (pbuh), although Austrian was born in Italy and used to say to me:

“You lot might well poke fun at Mussolini for making the trains run on time, but he did one important thing. He made all Italians learn to speak Italian.”

(she had a very posh Milanese accent, waiters in UK Italian restaurants – who are all southerners – leapt to attention when she spoke )

This reminds me of a story I like to tell occasionally. Around 2001 I was in an Italian restaurant in Warrington at a leaving do for a colleague in the engineering consultancy I was working for at the time. The restaurant was staffed by charismatic dark-skinned chaps dressed in waistcoats who would pay particular attention to any ladies who happened to be dining. There were lots of theatrical arm movements and plenty of mama mias in between strings of Italian phrases, giving the place an authentic feel.

Now we had a colleague, a very bright young woman called Barbara who was about four feet tall if stood on a box, and she happened to be Italian. Her idea of being on time was to turn up about half an hour late, so we were all sat down having placed our orders when she walked in. Cue lots of mama mias and other snippets of Italian as she was shown to our table and handed a menu. She read the selection for a minute or two then turned to the waiter and let loose a full sentence or two of Italian.

There was a pause.

The waiter looked at his colleague, who looked at Barbara and shrugged.

There was another pause.

Finally the waiter leaned forward and whispered in Barbara’s ear: “Sorry, we’re from Turkey.”

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8 thoughts on “Italian, but not as we know it

  1. I found Milanese (ok, Hinterland) impenetrable, yet, oddly enough, can understand the adjacent Swiss Italian speakers easily.

    OT, I can recommend Ticino for an expensive but very laid-back vacation. It’s like Italy, only without the chaos.

  2. Or to put it another way, Großer, if you cross from the Ticino into Italy you very quickly realise that the place you’ve left was Switzerland.

  3. Can I recommend the other Italian lakes? North of Bergamo they speak something that is neither Austrian nor Italian. Great food, nice people, spectacular country. And the iceman exhibition in Bolzano, from all the authority of his 6 or 7 years, was declared by my niipper as Best Museum Ever.

  4. ha ha, thanks for the plug Tim, I must come clean and admit that I am also BnLiA from TimW’s blog.
    She could tell at a glance if the waiters were proper Italians or not and so didn’t waste her time on fakers.
    In much the same way, we had a colleague who was an Indian Brahminb ( lay preacher even at his local temple), blimey you want to see real service in an Indian restaurant ( even ones staffed by Bangladeshis ) send one of these chaps in first.

    ps Mrs BnLiA was a bit of a Remainer in a way, she refused to accept the result of the First World War and considered SudTirol/Alta adige still as part of Austria. We saw Oetzi in Innsbruck, I really should go to Bozen to see him “at home”.

  5. Me again,
    as I was about to leave the page, my eye caught one of your adverts ( these are often blank spaces in my browser and only occasionally filled with adverts). This was for something called myitalianfamily.com, the idea being that one could trace one’s lineage and claim Italian citizenship.

    This reminds me of a story involving Mrs BnLiA’s relatives. Her family originally came from Trieste, when it was in the old Empire. Her grandfather was an officer in the border protection regiment. When WW1 ended he was sent to the Hungarian border where he helped implement the settlement of 1921.
    One branch of the family were Hungarian Jews ( still in Trieste ) and in 1919 they resettled in Vienna. Seeing how things were going post-Anschluss, they travelled to Trieste and managed to claim Italian citizenship , apparently the mayor knew the family and ushered the papers through. They had to Italianise their name, but it was a small price to pay. The eldest daughter stayed in Italy and lived in Milan. She fled to England when it looked as if things were going to get hot. By this time, UK was accepting refugees and the rest of the family followed, able to leave Vienna on the basis of their freshly minted Italian passports.
    The father was briefly locked up as an enemy alien and they had quite a hard life, living in Maida Vale ( which was not so nice in those days) on the proceeds of money made from selling their flat in Vienna ( again only allowed because they were officially Italians) and the casual jobs they could get as “enemy aliens”. In 1941 he eldest daughter joined the WAAF as a codebreaker. They all saw out the war, the father passed away in 1946 and the two daughters went to Israel in 1948 to fight in the war of independence.. Their relatives in Hungary were not so lucky…

  6. Your anecdote amuses.
    We’ve a restaurant bills itself as Cypriot, just down the road. Took a brasilian friend there & thought I was quite impressive ordering for us both in greek (No, I don’t really. But 30 years living in a North London suburb of Nicosia & I can navigate my way through a bubble menu backwards) Except they didn’t understand a word of it.
    Ended up letting her order in Spanish.

  7. @bis,

    I was in Cyprus once, staying at one of those semi-upmarket resorts, with a Greek-speaking friend. She tried to order drinks in Greek and was met with blank faces. The staff were all Russian (as a lot of the guests were).

  8. ha ha, thanks for the plug Tim, I must come clean and admit that I am also BnLiA from TimW’s blog.

    Heh, sneaking around under the cover of a pseudonym, eh? 🙂

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