No doubt the best way to explore Rome is through the eyes of a Roman. I had an opportunity to do just that last night. A good friend of mine from Duke University interned at the United States Mission to NATO this past spring semester with an Italian who is now studying in Rome for the Italian Foreign Service exam. Excited to practice my newfound language skills, I proceeded to send a text as such:
Me: Ciao Vittorio*! Mi chiamo Tracy e sono amica di Alberto Rossi*. Abito a Roma per quattro mesi. Vorrei ti incontrare per sperimentare Roma il modo locale! Mi mandi un SMS se volete prendere un caffe! Scusi mi Italiano.
(Translation: Hello Vittorio! My name is Tracy and I am a friend of Alberto Rossi. I am living in Rome for four months. I would like to meet you to experience Rome the local way! Send me an SMS if you would like to have coffee. Sorry about my Italian.)
Now, I thought that was pretty good considering I had only had seven Italian language classes; yet, this was the response I received.
Vittorio: Hi Tracy! Firstly, welcome to Rome! Alberto told me about your staying here. I’ll be glad to show you a little of my city. Ok for the coffee, when do you prefer?
He texted me in English! At first, I was a little taken aback because I spent about ten minutes composing that text and thought I wrote it without mistakes; however, I realized this was probably for the best so as not to get confused about the meeting spot or time. Did you know that although Italy officially uses 24-hour time, Italians only tell time using that method when making a formal appointment? As for informal events, they use 12-hour time. Thus, for agreeing upon when to meet for dinner, one would say, “Vorrei cenare alle 8.”
The next night, Vittorio and I met at the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, a trendy neighborhood in Rome frequented by an equal ratio of Italians to foreigners. As with meeting anyone for the first time, the conversation started out shaky, but after a few minutes, we talked animatedly (in English, scusi!) and I even developed a little bit of an Italian accent.
We talked about everything from politics to traveling to architecture to stereotypes. Vittorio was refreshingly knowledgeable about his own city; a nice change after meeting so many Romans who know nothing about the history with which they grew up surrounded by. As we walked around Trastevere, Vittorio chanced upon many people he knew. Rome’s vibe is very different from that of cities in the United States. For instance, two summers ago, I lived in New York City and although I knew many people there, I would never happen to encounter them randomly on the street; there are just too many people and too many places. Furthermore, Romans love to relax and take leisurely strolls through their winding roads and river bridges.
Meeting Vittorio’s friends was so fun. Everyone was affable and patient as I practiced my Italian (did this count as “studying” for my Italian quiz the next day?). While I try to speak to shopkeepers and waiters in their native tongue, it can be very frustrating since they automatically respond in English. While I appreciate the gesture, I think it is imperative to learn the language of the country in which one is living! My confidence in speaking grew greatly last night and I plan on spending time with Vittorio at least once every week to practice the language of Lo Stivale (literally, “The Boot,” which is what they call Italy).
Hours passed quickly and soon I had to leave since I had an 8:30 AM class! Kindly, Vittorio offered to give me a ride back on his moped. I love experiencing Rome on foot, and still do even after the grueling thirteen-mile walk around the Aurelian Wall, but Rome by moped is indescribable. When I walk by foot, I occasionally feel as if the ancient buildings continue forever and become engrossed by the small details. Yet, last night, I could finally see the bigger picture. A great night with great company…what could be better?
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons