I didn’t manage to learn Italian in 2 weeks, but I did try and disguise my Spanish to sound Italian-ish. I learned quickly that Spanish does work somewhat, and works even better if you wave your arms and use your hands a lot. Italian is more body language than spoken language, especially in Naples, where I felt conversations could be muted and still completely understood if you just watched.
I had this image of loud Italian women yelling at eachother across the street, perched up in their balconies laden with clothes-lines full of colourful clothes. I first arrived in Milan, where they have a municipal by-law against clothes lines on your balcony, so I didn’t see it there. The streets were also full of loud traffic, and the city center had mostly business and commercial offices filling the buildings. But in Naples, the historical city center is mostly apartments, full of this scene – narrow streets that you look down and see balcony after balcony with clothes that must never dry. In the morning and the evening, bickering ladies come out and yell, waving their arms a lot, and it always sounds like they’re arguing, but I’ve been told they’re saying very affectionate things.
The little streets, which I would have gotten totally lost in if I wasn’t following my Napolitan host, ring with the sound of scooters, driving just a little too fast and taking every corner and overpass just a little too close. Noone wears a helmet, and sometimes 3 adults squeeze onto one seat, bottoming out on every big cobblestone. You yell in Italian, with your hands, while youre driving too, which made me slightly uncomfortable when I was the passenger. Luckily my friend Adriano didn’t have a scooter, but while driving his hatchback, would let go of the steering wheel and flail his arms around, yelling something at everyone that cut him off. Even though the windows were shut and no one could hear him, they could see him, and thus, message communicated.
I picked up some pointers on speaking Italian with your hands and figured this much out: always move your arms about, even if you’re talking on the phone and the other person cant see you; move your hands in straight lines, up and down, or left to right; switch between having your palm faced upward or downward, but keep you fingers frayed; roll your forearms around eachother alot. To make a point, pout your middle and index finger to your thumb and shake your hand infront of your chest. If your boasting, tilt your head back, jut your jaw out and puff your chest up pompously. Tilt your head up and jut your jaw out while nodding your head if you agree with someone. Tilt your head up and jut your jaw out and shake your head if you disagree with someone, and if you have something to say to correct them, shut them up by grabbing their hands – since they can’t keep talking if you stop their hands from moving. If you want to make them stop talking a little more politely, or make your point more poignant, put the back of your hand on their chest and push a little til they stop.
The most important thing was to smile and laugh a lot, touch eachothers hands and arms a lot, and never stop communicating with your hands since they wont hear you if youre just talking with your lips… atleast they’ll stop listening or understanding you, whether or not you’re actually speaking Italian.