La straniera (The Foreigner)

I am a foreigner. This fact has been made clear to me every single day since my arrival in Italy. It has been made clear every time an attempt on my part to speak Italian is received with the furrowing of a brow and a look of intense concentration and again every time I mirror the expression to those who are speaking Italian too quickly or using words that I do not yet understand.

My separateness from this country and its people only becomes more prevalent when Italians speak, or attempt to speak, to me in English. Although usually a nice gesture, there are times when I cannot help but connect it with the assumption that my ability to communicate in Italian is so inadequate and poorly received that they feel it is an impossibility for me to have a fluid conversation in Italian, even if it requires only simple phrases.

Each time this English-Italian exchange takes place it acts as a reminder that I am seen a foreigner with the linguistic capabilities limited to those needed 4,200 miles (6760 kilometers) away. In other words, although physically in Italy, I often feel psychologically locked in an American bubble across the world.

My current limited understanding of Italian language and culture creates this feeling of separateness, which is continually perpetuated by the insistence of many Italian natives to categorize me as “other”.

How could I be expected to better my Italian when I am so often forced to hide under my American identity?


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