"Why is your wife better than you?"

I have been told at least three times in the past four days that my wife is better than I am. A waiter, the Pharmacist, and a friend come to mind immediately. There may be more, but you’d have to ask her. Sometimes the statement was couched as a declaration, and sometimes as a question, as in “why is your wife better than you?” (which assumes that it’s true and that I know it, in contrast to the statement, which means “you may not know it, but . . .”)

My answer is usually something like, “that’s what everyone says,” or “that’s because she’s smarter.” (me being funny). The statement that she is better than I is made in the specific context that she speaks Italian better than I do, not that she is better in general. For that reason, what they say is true.

We have been here for four years, and struggle still with Italian. I bought medicine for the dog today, which is done at a regular pharmacy. I asked for it in Italian. The head pharmacist corrected my pronunciation of the name of the medicine (although I could discern no material difference between what she said and what I had said). The assistant pharmacist told me the price in Italian, which I fully understood. The head pharmacist repeated the price in English. I told her (in English) that I knew the numbers in Italian. She said “yes, but you prefer to speak English.” Yes, I told her, because then I know what I’m saying. This is when she enlightened me as to my wife’s superiority in speaking Italian. She’s much more fluent, she said.

There is a profound but very simple reason she is better than I am at speaking Italian: she works at it. She studies books, conjugates verbs, writes stuff in a notebook, watches Italian TV. I don’t do any of that. When I see a newspaper headline, I think to myself “I wonder what that says.” I can pick out some of the words, but not the words that give material meaning to the headline. I might take a picture with my iPhone and try to translate it, but that is only if I’m feeling extraordinarily ambitious.

Another problem is, as the episode with the pharmacist illustrates, even if I speak to them in Italian, they answer me in English. I have more than once found myself in the absurd situation of being the only one speaking Italian. So, I don’t need it day-to-day. And to the extent that I do need it, I know it. For example, I can order a meal, red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, regular beer and dark beer. I can say “this,” “that,” “those,” and “these,” and I know the numbers and most of the weights. I know the names of many vegetables and some meat. I can tell someone to keep going straight, turn right or left, and stuff like that. What else is there?

Yes, as you say, I might want to carry on a nuanced philosophical discussion but, for the most part, I haven’t found anyone to do it with. (and those with whom I might like to carry on such a conversation would, necessarily, need to be highly educated and, therefore, more fluent in English than I’ll ever be in Italian). I can’t stand TV, even in the US, and I don’t read the papers, though I should, I suppose.

The other day the doorbell rang. I went down to see who it was, and there was a man with a clipboard who started to talk real fast in Italian. I don’t like guys with clipboards. They are always trying to get something, usually money, or they are some government weenie coming to bust my chops about something. As he jabbered, I thought I understood what he was saying, but I couldn’t believe it. I thought he said there was a new restaurant in town, and they are giving out free bottles of prosecco (white sparkling wine), would I like one? He stopped talking and looked at me expectantly. I thought he was taking orders on his little clipboard. Or maybe he really asked me how many TVs were in the house (they tax those things, believe it or not). I didn’t know what to do. Is it possible he wants to give me a free bottle of wine? Nah. I looked out the door behind the man, and there was a lad pushing a big cart stacked with cases of prosecco. The man held out a bottle for me to take. By God! I understood him at native speed! Of course, I took the wine in disbelief, thanked him, and went upstairs.

So, I am not as bad as everyone says. But for now, I am willing to admit that my wife is better than I am. Anyone who has talked to the two of us together knows that. When that changes, I’ll write the blog in Italian. Ciao.

This entry was published on January 21, 2012 at 4:50 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “"Why is your wife better than you?"

  1. Mike,Neither are 'better' together you compliment each other, each has skills that make up for the others weaknesses.Rob

  2. Thumbs up….a fun read!!!

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  5. it is difficult to learn when your italian counterparts insist that they converse in engjish because somehow it's easier to understand; love your blog (love Karen's as well)

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