Friday, May 04, 2012

Italy? Yes Please!

Guess what, lovely bloggery bloggers? It's Friday! And even better, I've got Catherine McNamara here, talking about her new book, The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy.

Now, I'm not divorced nor do I live in Italy, but being an expat myself, I'm always fascinated by other expat  experiences. So... take it away, Catherine!

Living in Translation

Anyone who has lived abroad knows that learning a language involves embarrassing moments. You ask for a baguette in your best French and the baker looks back with a perplexed stare. You study Italian in Milan and end up in a town where everybody speaks an incomprehensible dialect. Or, you ask if there are any preservativi (condoms) in a jar of jam instead of conservanti (preservatives), and set a whole room laughing!

When I set out to write my women’s commercial novel ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ I wasn’t sure I would find a convincing storyline or voice. I’d published a lot of short stories, some tragi-comic, but I’d never tackled humour or romance, or written a story set in this noisy, flashy country despite living here for eight years. I knew that my character Marilyn Wade was in Italy to reformat her life, and I knew that her learning Italian would provide lots of laughs. I also knew that the most immediate way of learning a language is to acquire a partner who speaks the desired tongue, and that the most effective lessons take place beneath the sheets.

Enter virile agronomist Federico, who has already snatched a few of my readers’ hearts.

I had a wonderful time writing this book – so far from my own experience that I think it made my imagination wilder. One summer I set up my desk in the chicken shed attached to the house so my children couldn’t hunt me down every five minutes. Everyone knows that writers like to keep on their coffee highs for as long as possible. And that to unfurl an idea you have to isolate yourself and keep your thoughts well-fed while you urge the words onto the page.

So how much easier is it when English is your secret niche and your mundane daily activities are carried out in Italian? This is something that I have discovered about living in translation, where I have my writerly secrets at my desk and my stories vivid in my thoughts, undisturbed as I pay bills in Italian, chitchat at the fruit market, drink aperitivi and make my awful, horrible language trip-ups. These days however, I have learned NOT to ask if there are any condoms in the jam!


Thank you, Catherine! The book is available here, and on all the usual suspects.

I would like to know: Have you had an embarrassing experience, linguistic or otherwise, when travelling? Share!

PS: Thank you for the fashion input on Wednesday! I'll reveal my purchases on Monday. Have a great weekend!

63 comments:

  1. Your book sounds like a good read, Catherine. I love Italy. We've only been there once, to Venice, and managed with hardly any Italian at all. It's almost harder to know a little of the language. In France I used my schoolgirl French to prepare a question for a shopkeeper. I must have impressed because I was completely baffled by his reply and had to shout slowly and loudly "Do you speak English?!"

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    1. You must have an ear for languages - almost!

      Ah yes Venice. I live nearby and go there to wander. There is a chapter of the book set in Venice and I did enjoy writing that.

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  2. Good luck, Catherine!
    I remember visiting Wales and the locals had fun by not speaking any English to us. Took us a while to catch on.

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  3. Catherine, it's great to meet you. Best of luck!!

    Embarrassing language barrier #256: traveled to Canada with the hubby before he was my hubby. He was hungry, so we stopped at a pizza place. He ordered...or attempted to. Basically, he verbally slapped the waiter for not speaking English. Not pretty... (He's grown up since then. lol My entire family speaks French.)

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    1. Yes my ex used to visit Italy and just speak English loudly to everybody in shops and bars. People were too thrown off to remind him he was rude! Sometimes these exchanges do bring out the worst in people.

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  4. It's always an eye-opener to travel and even more so when we go to a place that does not speak our native language!

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  5. Virile agronomist Frederico?!!? Does he have a brother!?

    All the best, Catherine! One of my earliest embarrassing language faux pas was at school when a french student joined our class of 13 year olds. I tried my bestest french with her and she only looked at me when I finished and said in perfect english "I do not understand what you are trying to say."

    Take care
    x

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    1. I think that's what the baker in Paris replied to me.

      Oh and Fede's brother - I'm sure I saw him working on a ski lift this winter!

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  6. I've always wanted to go to Italy, but don't know when that will be happening, so I think reading about it will be the next best thing :) Sounds like such a fun book!

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  7. Very good article. Congratulations.

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  8. Very fun! I'm an expat living in France- they have the same word for condoms (preservatives):)

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  9. I'm not well-travelled at all - so no embarrassing tales! - but Italy's one place I'd really love to visit.

    Catherine's book sounds great :o)

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    1. At least people aren't super-serious so you can generally get away with it. Live and learn!

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  10. Wonderful post Catherine such a pleasure to read.
    Thank you Talli for hosting Catherine.

    Have a good week-end.
    Yvonne.

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  11. Great post, Catherine!

    I haven't travelled outside of North America, so no fumbling my way into a disaster, though I expect that'll change!

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  12. Ha, I love that he's a "virile agronomist." I'm hooked by that fact alone. :) It sounds like such a fun read!

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    1. Not sure where the 'virile agronomist' came from exactly, but he's quite a presence!

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  13. Sounds great fun, Catherine! I love Italy but studied French and German at school (long time ago!) so only picked up a smattering of Italian when on holiday there (we live in Scotland). Good luck with that book.

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    1. Thanks so much Rosemary. Italian is a phonetic language so not so hard to pick up at all. Much easier than French with all that pursing-of-the-lips.

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  14. What a fabulous post, love the title: living in translation! Being a non-native English speaker (German by origin) living in the UK, I have committed many a lingustic crime and oddity over the years. Ironically, most of those have been committed going back to Germany and backtranslating from my preferred language into German. So, I have been known to encourage people to help themselves to cake (instead of serving themselves), meeting blank stares at what sounded really quite rude in German.

    Interestingly, the preservatives/conservative conundrum also befalls the German speaker of English, mostly in the sense that they'll expect condoms in most foodstuffs containing preservatives (which is the polite German noun for condoms). And again, I did go in a shop once myself in Germany asking whether the soup contained any perservatives... you get the idea. Great, great post, Catherine!

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  15. The book sounds fun! I can't wait to check it out. :)

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  16. What a great post, Catherine!

    I would kill to go to Italy. Been dying to for YEARS but just haven't yet!

    I can't think of any personal linguistic/travel blunders, but I do think the scene in Bridget Jones's Diary 2, where she's trying to buy a pregnancy test at a pharmacy in the Alps, is hilarious!

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  17. as it turns out I've just booked a flight to Florence in a few weeks' time :) There'll likely be many linguistic embarrassments while I'm there :)

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  18. Catherine, your book sounds like a fun read. Talli, thanks for the introduction.

    Although I've traveled a lot in Europe, my most embarrassing linguistic moment happened in Cheyenne, Wyoming at the bus station when I tried to help a non-English speaking traveler figure out his time schedule. My French was pretty good at the time, but I had a teeny lapse with my numbers and gave him the wrong information. When I suddenly realized my error, I had to chase the poor young man down to explain so he wouldn't miss his bus.

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  19. Sounds awesome! Well, not the condoms in a jar, but the rest! :)

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  20. Congratulations on your book, Catherine!

    Having never traveled to another country (well, except for being adopted from China . . . but I don't remember that) I can't say I've ever had an embarrassing experience. I'm sure I will if I ever travel outside of the USA, though. :P Which is definitely something I want to do!

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    1. You never know! Hope all your dreams come true. Travel wisely!

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  21. Hilarious. I hope I never make such a faux pas.

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  22. I've had my share of language malfunctions, but that's all I'm going to say!

    This sounds like a good read.

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    1. Yes I blush when I remember and my kids still make fun of my double consonants.

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  23. Embarrassing situation? When haven't I? I live in Mexico and I speak very little Spanish. Everyday is an adventure.

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    1. Oh yes I remember the daily blush. I used to buy fruit and vegetables at the supermarket rather than the outdoor market - so I wouldn't have to point and mumble.

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  24. No embarrassing adventures here. But, I must say the condom one is hilarious.

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    1. Thanks Cat! So far readers seem to think so which is great.

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  26. Love the condom misinterpretation, and the book sounds like fun !

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  27. Good post and fun sounding book!

    Tee hee. I love sharing my story. Every morning I said Hello to an old man, and prided myself in saying it in Greek along with his name. He used to nod but never smiled. I mentioned to my Cypriot friend about my achievement. I couldn't understand why she was laughing. Apparently I had said good morning pigs testicles. His name had another sound attached I had missed it off! She wrote an apology in Greek for me. He roared with laughter when he read it. *phew*

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    1. This is the best! I can't even imagine what would happen if I said 'pigs' testicles' to an old guy in a bar here. How would you even say it!

      This is really fabulous. They are probably all still laughing, you know.

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  28. The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy sound like a fun book!

    When I travelled to Madras in India and people there speak a different language we made many bloopers! It was fun trying to connect with signals!

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    1. Yes there is a lot of hand language over here too. It helps, doesn't it?

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  29. I travel to England every couple years to visit my family. I'm always surprised when I don't understand something they are talking about. Or when you travel very far north in England the dialect is quite different and sometimes hard to understand.

    Your book sounds like a fun read. :)

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    1. In Italy dialects can be really tricky, changing from town to town even. I crossed one mountain pass this weekend in the Dolomites and the dialect on the other side was almost incomprehensible. Wild!

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  30. Interestingly, I think I managed not to embarrass myself. Mainly because I never speak Chinese out loud. Waaaaaay too risky.

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    1. My eldest son is studying Chinese and I would love to send him over there. Unlike me he has a gift for imitation and languages.

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  31. This book sounds like fun.

    I haven't had too many embarrassing situations while traveling, but I don't travel overseas that often to begin with.

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    1. I don't travel as much nowadays but I seem to acquired a lot to write about! Best wishes.

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  32. Dear Talli,

    Thanks so much for having me here. You have a wonderful, supportive and hilarious bunch of followers here. I've had a marvellous time.

    Best of luck for you and your writing endeavours,
    Catherine

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  33. LOL! Oh goodness.
    Not linguistically but I once inadvertently goosed a man with my umbrella while waiting in a queue while on holiday. I was mortified, but he replied "I thought it was my lucky day!"

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Coffee and wine for all!