Sunday, January 27, 2008
Europeans, what a silly group of people!
Today we played Taboo, or at least the ulpan equivalent of Taboo. We had slivers of paper with words on them, and we had to describe them for our partners' to figure out, without using the word, of course. It was pretty fun, really. I was paired up with a girl from Chicago, and also the Italian. We had such a hard time speaking over the din of the entire classroom, and the Italian said, "I can't hear what you are saying!"
"No? Sorry," and I leaned forward. "I'll speak louder."
"No, I just can't understand what you're saying."
"What?" I was confused. I spoke up, and clearly. "You don't know the vocab, you mean?"
"I don't understand Americans. You guys have such a strong accent, I can't understand a word you're saying! All I hear is American," leaning back in her seat, smugly and self-reassuringly nodding her head.
"Yeah, I can't hear you. Your accent just overpowers the Hebrew."
"Ok...," shifting to the right, towards my American compatriot.
At this point, the Chicago girl and I exchanged looks. It was mildly offensive, the way she so blatantly told us how terrible our accents were. She went on to tell us how she never can understand Americans, and that our Hebrew is always murdered by the accents -- worse so than any other non-native speakers. Great, that's very encouraging. Chicago, however, was not ready to lay down and accept humiliation.
"Really, you think so? I think the Portuguese are hard to understand," pointing her chin towards the Brazilians.
Emphatically, "No way! They speak like Israelis."
Chicago was not going to have that rebuke. She, after all, spent a year living in Brazil; she knows Portuguese. "I disagree, you're wrong, you notice how they speak with that sing-song tune? Their accent is so heavily Portuguese. I can tell right away where they are from."
"Well, I guess, but they don't sound so bad. I mean, I can understand them at least."
"Yeah, the French are pretty bad, right?" I had to put in my two cents, and they really do fight through that nasal inflection.
"I guess. Nothing like you guys," with a dismissing flick of the hand.
I didn't want to say it, but Chicago felt like it was time. I gave her a quick look, as if I knew what she was thinking, and gave her the go-ahead nod. "Italians, your accent -- it's also very noticeable."
"No!" The Italian sat bolt upright in her seat, eyes wide open. "That's not true! We have a very soft accent, and it drops completely when we speak Hebrew!"
"Right. In Italian you add an 'eh' or some type of up-talk ending, like 'spicy-eh.'"
"Yes, we add that in Italian, but we don't do it in Hebrew!"
"Yes you do! I had an Italian in my other ulpan class, and she spoke Hebrew the same way as you do," fingering her pen.
"No, whatever," the Italian sitting straight up, picked up her notebook, tidying up her desk with her eyes down, rearranging nothing worth rearranging. "You're wrong, whatever. Whatever!"
She was not pleased! It was silly how easily she told us that our accents were so visible through the Hebrew, but when we pointed out that she had an Italian accent, just as the Parisians have French accents, and the Brazilians have Brazilian accents, she took such great offense. We had a long conversation on the horrible American disposition, and the other students from other countries, but then when her nationality came into question... What puerile, touchy Europeans!
After a few minutes, knowing that the conversation was over, I let slip what I had really wanted to say the whole time. Italy-girl gave over a sentence, in Hebrew, while still playing Taboo. I let the thought on my mind slip, and I felt bad, and then I realized how comical it all was! I said, "Now that'sa spicy'eh meat'ah ball'eh!
"No way! I DO NOT SPEAK LIKE THAT! That's American-Italian, and I am not one of those people."
"Really?," responding in a deferential tone, realizing that I could have just been slightly obnoxious. "I thought Italians were Italians?"
"No, I am from the north of Italy. We don't speak like that," lifting her nose skyward.
"Oh, yeah, I guess not."
At the end of class, unsure if maybe I was wrong in my estimation of her accent, I asked Chicago what she thought. "Was she a little bit sensitive about that Italian thing?," not sure what Chicago would say.
"I know, right?! I'm glad you said that," fully effecting a look of surprise by raising her eyebrows and half-smiling.
"Good," relaxing my shoulders, "I wasn't sure if it was just me."
"No, no, she totally speaks with an Italian accent. I can barely understand her sometimes, because she puts 'eh' on the end of everything, so I can't tell if the verbs are masculine or feminine..."
"Yeah, me too! Sheesh, I thought I was being racist she got so mad."
This is why I like the Brits. Their accents are as heavy and pronounced as Americans, and they know it, just like we realize how terribly we butcher the language. We all do, really. That's the thing; speak proudly, but realize that if you're from Italy, or Virginia, everybody is going to realize you're not from Jerusalem.
Mamma mia! Non te la prendere!