English and Italy

I haven’t been posting as often as I’d like. I’ve had my head down to complete a big project, which I’ve now done (Yay me!). Nor have I written about food in a while. That’s because I’ve been on a bit of a regimen to shed the holiday/I-write-about-food-in -my-blog-so-I-need-to-eat-a-lot-of-it-and-all-the-time weight. But with Birthday Week upon us, I expect to be eating (and writing about) some quite delightful meals in the not too distant future.

But enough about me. Our topic today is the relationship between Italians and the English language. Italians love English or seem to. It is everywhere: on billboards, in magazines and newspapers. Walking down Rome’s main shopping street, the Via del Corso, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in New York.

Nearly all shops--and not just shops for tourists--feature advertising in English.

In a related matter, American popular culture is pervasive here, as it is all over the world. The vast majority of movies and many TV shows have American origins (they are inevitably dubbed, a practice dating back to Mussolini, who banned foreign languages from fascist Italy) as do 90% of the pop music on the radio. The other day an Italian friend asked me, “What’s the deal with Charlie Sheen?”

Side bar: in addition to having a fetish for some of the best aspects of American culture (Glee, Springsteen, Charlie Sheen’s meltdown), Italians have also picked up some of the worst: telemarketing and microwaveable dinners. On the first topic can I just say ARGGHHH! I don’t know how long this has been going on really because they normally call during the day and up until August I was always in the office. But since I’ve been working at home, the phone rings at least 10 times a day and it is ALWAYS someone trying to sell me an alternate Internet service. LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!!! I have totally stopped answering the phone (if you want to talk to me, call my cell). My answer phone message is in English and they usually hang up when they hear that. As for the microwaveable dinners, they are a fairly recent phenomenon and mostly not bad. I have very fond memories of TV dinners myself — especially the fried chicken one. But given Italy’s culinary genius and global status among foodies, it’s sad to see it moving in the direction of quick and zappy eating.

Italian TV dinners

Anyway, back to topic. Most Italians speak very little English. Even Berlusconi — who has been known to promote the importance of teaching English in schools — speaks little to none. And I have already written about the silly Italian-to-English translations you see in museums and restaurants. It seems so strange to have English all over the radio and all over the advertising when so few people can understand what it says. I have quizzed Italian friends about this and they all seem to think that using English in advertising is a status thing. It conveys money and class (they say) that the Italian language does not. I find this stunning coming from people who grew up speaking the language of Dante.

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