Monday, March 31, 2008

Parle vous l'inglese bitte?

On the sidewalk a few weeks ago, we came across an older Swiss German gentleman peering through a fence. "Look," he instructed, pointing at two flowers facing each other, straining toward the ray of light falling between them, "never say anything is impossible!" Once convinced we were sufficiently impressed, he walked away jauntily, leaving us to contemplate whether he was a crazy street man or just a hippy professor type without anyone to talk with or tell him to comb his beard.

A short while later we joined him at the bus stop where he was happy to rejoin us in conversation, switching to English when our lack of fluency was exposed. Mostly we talked about all the languages he can speak and where he learned them: French from the beautiful first girlfriend still ingrained in his memory ("Let me tell you, the first woman for a man is the same as the first man is for a woman"), English in school (apparently Swiss Germans learn English while Swiss Italians learn French), and Italian here in Lugano ("But I tell you, some of my friends here can't even ask for a coffee in Italian!").

Lugano bus culture requires passengers to self-segregate by age (and maybe also race but don't quote me on that yet), so when the bus came we got on at the back and left him to chat it up with the old ladies at the front. And what better way to impress the ladies than with a thrilling display of lingual and cultural literacy? Be still my heart.

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