Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Italian 101: The Art of the Interrupting
Recently we attended a party at my parents’ house. It was a large gathering of family and friends, and with so many Italians present conversation was both loud and all over the place.
At one point I happened to glance over at my eldest son who was sitting (trapped?) between two Italian Nonne, each of whom asked him question after question between pauses in their own conversation. He had a dazed look on his face.
I remembered when I first introduced my husband (we were engaged at the time) to our big Italian community. Complete strangers grabbed him and kissed him; women in aprons shoved heaping plates of food in his direction; men refilled his wine glass before it was even emptied; and everyone fired questions at him so quickly he didn’t have time to answer any of them. He basically ate and nodded. He later confided to me he had wanted to participate in the conversation, but no one stopped talking long enough for him to say anything.
My poor husband. He comes from a polite family in which there are few interruptions and voice levels are moderate, so it’s no wonder he was totally unprepared for my Italian family where conversations overlap, interruptions are the norm, voices get louder and louder, and chaos can reign supreme.
And now, years later, the same thing was happening to my poor son. I knew it was time for a lesson on the art of interrupting, which is crucial in Italian conversation.
I first explained to him the importance of being vigilant for pauses. Even if it may seem as if there is no cessation in speech, there are in fact moments to speak such as when someone takes a sip of wine or takes a bite of food. Seize these opportunities to jump in the conversation, but be quick because other people will also be looking for them.
I also told him how it’s impossible to address the entire group; instead, address the person sitting next to you. Talk fast, though, so they can’t interrupt.
I then pointed out the necessity of going with the flow. With so many people talking at the same time, shifts in the conversation occur at breakneck speed. One minute the topic might be the recipe for Nonna’s minestrone, but the next it’s natural childbirth. Transitions often don’t make sense, and that’s okay.
Finally, I assured him, when all else fails do what a lot of the men in the family do: when you can’t get a word in edgewise . . . sit back, listen and enjoy the show.
You’ll have the best seat in the house.