Saturday, June 13, 2009

Parli inglese?

If you have read David Sedaris’s latest collection of stories—When You Are Engulfed In Flames—then you probably remember the story of his trip to the doctor and the chain of misunderstandings that led him to be sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, mostly naked, while fully-clothed patients stared at him.

The path that led him to this embarrassing position was paved with the French word “d’accord.” Rather than admit his ignorance of French after having lived in France for years, he would always just answer “d’accord” whenever anyone said something he could not understand. “D’accord” is equivalent to “Okay, sure, I agree with whatever it is you just said.” This quick and ready agreement with just about anything anyone said sometimes led Sedaris into some uncomfortable positions.

I am not mostly naked in front of a lot of strangers, but through a similar instinct away from clarity and toward agreeability there is now a nice woman in my neighborhood who thinks I am from Italy. I was out in the garden last summer and she came strolling down the road, arms pumping her little hand weights as she walked. I looked up just as she was looking at me and we made eye contact. She saw whatever it is people see when they decide to talk to a stranger rather than ignore them and she came over and said something I couldn’t quite get.

When I asked her to repeat the question it turned out to be something about the basil I was growing. I wasn’t exactly sure what she had said, but I told her that I use the basil to make pesto. She said something else and I told her my recipe and that I mostly use my pesto on cheese tortellini. Then she asked me yet another question that I could not quite understand.

Not wanting to ask her AGAIN to repeat what she had said, I simply said “yes.” It was dumb, (I now know), but in the moment it somehow struck me as the right thing to do. Some inner voice quickly sized up the situation and said to me—“yeah—go ahead—agree with her. Whatever she just said can’t have been very meaningful, right? Probably something like ‘Nice weather we’re having.’”

That inner voice was wrong. I know now she was asking if I was from Italy. Turns out, she is from Italy. And now every time I see her coming I have to hide, fast, because I know she is going to want to talk about the Old Country. Yesterday she saw that Erica and I had put in a new raised garden bed and today I found some seedling tomato plants out in the garden. I just KNOW who they are from.

How do I now go back and tell her I am not really from Italy? Can I even do that? Or am I doomed to a lifetime of skulking around in my own front yard, watching, watching, always watching for the woman with the hand weights and the thick Italian accent?


  1. Maybe you should go another direction. As she draws near allow your alter ego to emerge (loud unintelligible muttering, hand swatting at invisible objects, etc.). That, or you could just start talking politics...


  2. I think the answer is clear. Time to sign up for an Italian class. I think I have a copy of the film "Il Postino" that you can borrow as well.