I’m surrounded by Italians who never hear each other out. It seems that this is an effective conversation strategy among themselves. Forget the idea of letting someone actually finish what they’re saying—the usual response is for everyone to start talking over them, getting louder and louder until they’ve drowned the person out and everyone is completely caught up in what they themselves want to say. Those who can’t speak loud enough to keep up try to make up for it with dramatic gestures. And even if someone loses the battle to get a word in, they’ll sit there and wait for their next chance to strike. They might repeat themselves two or three times whenever they can find a gap. Even if they miss their chance and the conversation shifts topics, they’ll make sure to get in everything they wanted to say at some point. They may not even realize that the conversation has moved on, since they’re so totally focused on regaining the floor.
Watching the Italians talk to each other reminds me of karaoke. Despite the fact that I am a musician, I almost never went to karaoke because I don’t sing well and didn’t know any of the songs. The few times I did go, however, it struck me how wrapped up everyone was in picking out the next song when their friends were singing. As a stage performer myself, it was a hard thing to watch.
Let me also mention that my Italian is really halting. I often pause while I’m trying to find the right word. And Italian grammar is complicated. There are feminine nouns and masculine nouns, number agreement, articles that you have to put before nouns, all kinds of confusing tenses… I completely fail to grasp the complexity of it and speak correctly, which gets me flustered and on the verge of meltdown all the time. While I’m floundering around, I’m being attacked on all sides by Italians who never hear anyone out anyway. And even if they don’t, I can feel their attention waning while I’m trying to get my thoughts out…
I’ve even had Italians find it curious that I actually listen to them until they’ve finished speaking. Apparently it sometimes seems like I’m messing with them by not engaging in the usual give and take. That’s when I start to get a little irritated and fire back at them. “Look,” I say, “in Japanese the verb doesn’t come until the very end of the sentence—not to mention that you can’t even tell if the person is affirming or denying the thought unless you listen until the end either. It’s incredibly rude and disruptive to cut someone off thinking you know what they’re going to say before they say it, and we Japanese are constantly admonishing people to hear each other out. “
And at that, the Italian person typically gets a momentary gleam of curiosity in their eyes as they consider this exciting and mysterious language that seems full of make-believe possibilities.
If I’m gonna start Japanese classes for Italians, I’ll give them quizzes where they’ll never get the right answer unless they listen carefully until the end!!