Cops and salsa
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Cops and salsa

When you call a foreign country home and summer rolls around and you find yourself planning a vacation to the old place you used to call home, you realize how strange your life has become. You are now, in many ways, a tourist in your own land. You find yourself

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Thu 12 Jul 2012 12:00 AM

When you call a foreign country home and summer rolls
around and you find yourself planning a vacation to the old place you used to
call home, you realize how strange your life has become. You are now, in many
ways, a tourist in your own land. You find yourself gawking like a bumpkin at
utter commonplaces-at the colossal dental hygiene aisle in Safeway, say. It’s
especially weird when you have children who straddle both cultures, in my case
children who speak perfect Florentine-wherein c’s morph into h’s and all
that-and who also speak perfect English (well, near-perfect American, at any
rate). Children have an uncanny way of demonstrating that, while they don’t
quite fit in like born-and-bred Little Leaguers, geographical borders are
indeed fluid things.

 

Any trip back to the
States, then, is fun and educational in many aspects, but as an opportunity for
language enrichment, it’s the cat’s pajamas. My kids pick up all manner of
essential American slang, proving they can adapt in no time. For instance, once
when my Italian husband was gleefully doing 85 in a 65 mph zone in a borrowed
extended-cab pick-up, I hissed, ‘Slow down for Chrissake! American cops aren’t
like Italian cops-here they actually pull people over for speeding and give
them ginormous tickets!’ (And I needed all funds available for mega-shopping at
Target). A little voice piped up from the back seat: ‘Mommy, what are cops?’

A mere hour of American television provides a pirate’s
hoard of little nuggets of linguistic treasure, usually requiring urgent
explication: ‘What’s a dufus?’ ‘What’s a geek?’ ‘What’s a pimp?’ (Ok, time to
change channels).

 

Of course, many of their shiny new words have to do
with food and certain aspects of the culture that we just don’t come across
here in Florence. Like kiteboarding-something apparently everybody in Portland,
Oregon, does. Or IPA-something apparently everybody in Portland, Oregon,
drinks. The wonderful world of Mexican food needed in-depth tutorials for my
two intrepid travelers: extended exegesis of tortillas, enchiladas, chile
rellenos, tamales, guacamole (ah, to be a kid again and discover this ambrosia
for the very first time!) and salsa.

‘Is salsa like tomato sauce, Mommy?’ ‘No, not exactly.
It’s a kind of tomato, onion and chili pepper dip you usually eat with tortilla
chips.’ ‘What’s a dip?’ ‘You know, something you, er, plunge something into,
like a pinzimonio, only not with olive oil and raw vegetables but this
kind of tomatoey stuff in which you place triangular corn chips and to which it
adheres.’ Little brows furrowed. I could see the cultural lesson was spiraling
out of control.

 

One thing you have to remember is that kids are
delightful little sponges when it comes to language. When you least expect-or
desire it-they’re soaking up words like a drunkard soaks up carbohydrates. One
night, after we were sure the kids were asleep, we watched a few episodes of Family
Guy with friends. I don’t really remember what the premise of each was-it
seemed like just a lot of pre-apocalyptic, cynical American humor involving
farting and Chinese food-but the next morning my fresh-faced, cherub-cheeked
offspring greeted me with the maniacal laughter of two feral hyenas and the
words of Brian, the show’s anthropomorphic dog: ‘Right now, all I can smell is
your [bleep]!’ And they kept on chanting this colorful and apparently indelible
phrase like some lunatic mantra for the rest of the trip, much to my chagrin.
(This charming bit of acquired Americana has an insidious way of cropping up to
this very day, here in Florence, usually in the most unexpected and
embarrassing moments).

So, as we depart once again for her richly colloquial
and star-spangled shores, I say, heartily, ‘Bless you, America! Give us your
idioms, your jargon, your rainbow lexicon yearning to breathe free. And pass
the [bleepin’] salsa.’

 

 

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