Speaking on the phone in another language is difficult. Successfully achieving this step represents a whole new plateau in your language skillz (with a z).
There’s something about being able to watch someone’s lips move that makes the sounds reach your ears faster. Plus, in person, you’ve got facial expressions to help out when you’re not sure if they’re joking or serious.
It’s made even more difficult when the other language is one in which hand gestures not only add to, but sometimes also clarify, a sentiment. When an Italian, for example, exclaims, “O!” on the phone, there is a certain amount that you can gather from tone, sure. You can more or less tell the severity of the situation by the length of time spent on each syllable of the “O”.
You probably thought there was only one syllable in “O”. You’d be wrong there. “Oh” short and sweet = hey, pay attention to me; “O-ooh” = what the hell were you thinking?; “Ooooowwww” = aw, that sucks, dude; and so on.
However, every once in a while, you may find yourself in O-limbo with a particularly nebulous execution of this little vowel. In those cases, a look at the placement of the hands would be super helpful.
One area of Telephone Conversation 101 that I always seem to trip over is at the very beginning:
The phone rings. I pick up.
?: “Ciao! Sono (insert friend’s name)!”
M: “Ciao, (friend)!”
Then there’s this awkward pause.
M: “… ”
Occasionally I’ll throw out a “Come stai?!” just to keep things moving. The reply will be, “bene, bene, e tu?”. I reply, “bene, grazie”.
We’re back to the pause. I feel like pointing out, “YOU called ME! ”
One time I even said something to the effect of, “Posso aiutarti?” (Can I help you?), and I got laughed at. A lot.
It took me forever to figure out what exactly we were waiting for there, but I think I may have figured it out. Through careful observation of others (my marito), I have determined that this pause is where I am supposed to say,
I’m supposed to say it without thinking of the translation and feeling like a New Yorker (“tawk to me”). This is difficult, but I suppose I can give it a try. It’s kind of like how all Italians say “permesso” as they enter through your front door, even if you’ve opened it for them and already invited them in. It’ a gateway word. It opens the conversation.
Let’s move on to the end of the conversation. You’ve hashed and rehashed whatever the subject was (probably six times or so, with pros and cons for each way, and all hypotheticals explored). It’s been determined where and when the next meal will take place (the objective or secondary objective of every phone conversation, as far as I can tell). And you’ve reached the end of your time together.
Here’s where there’s another odd thing that happens.
You must talk over each other, with the primary goal of being the last one to say “ciao” before the line disconnects.
I call it The Trailing Ciao.
It’s almost stuttered out, “ci-, cia-, ciao, ciao, ci-, cia-, ciao…”
One person starts the chain reaction, then both chime in with The Trailing Ciao, and it dies out only when both people have disconnected. I’m pretty certain the other person continues to say it for a while after I’ve hung up too.
Who knows how many brutta figuras I made in the first years when I hung up after the first “ciao”, not giving them the opportunity to trail out.
I dread to think.
Have you readers noticed any other peculiar phone habits in Italian (or other languages, for that matter)?