Expletive DinnerPatrick Lancer, Wednesday February 7th, 2007
In the old days, in America, dinnertime conversations were driven by the parents. “What did you do at school today?” would be asked by my mother and there would be a general chorus of “nothing” from me and my two brothers. However, here in Italy I find my role reversed, while my new parents are interested in what happened at school today, the conversation becomes driven by me. It seems as if my new family is more enticed by hearing me ask questions then they are by hearing me answer them. Most evenings I will ask about their thoughts on something on the news or why something is the way it is in Italy. Then my host mother and father will both try to respond at the same time but in different ways, often leading them into a tangled web of an argument usually centering around insignificant details and using polysyllabic words, which, even if they were speaking slowly, I probably would not be able to understand. I remember my question “Che pensi di Bush?” led to a particularly long engagement, ending with my new parents agreeing, “Non ci piace.”
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Anyway, it is not often that we hold dinnertime conversations I can actively and consistently contribute to, which is frustrating because, for the first time in many years, I actually wish to contribute more then a word or two. However, one particularly noteworthy night, my host parents and I went out to eat with new family friends, an older couple with children and grandchildren, the youngest being around my age. I fondly refer to the meal that night as, “The Expletive Dinner”.
The table was long and seated sixteen. I was near one end with a brother and sister who were probably my age and we were carrying on a conversation about music which, pop-music being what it is, led to us discussing swearwords. The Italian children were throwing out every cuss they could muster up from the recesses of their minds and I would translate them into English. Then, much to my delight, they would repeat the word several times trying to remember it and then they would move onto the next. Needless to say, the stream of vulgarities had drawn the attention of the rest of the table and the elders began, much to my surprise, to pitch in older, out-of-date swears and try to explain them to me so I could dish out the four-letter English equivalent. Throughout hearing the whole table pronounce “shit” like “Shi-ite” I was able to keep a straight face. However, when my neighbor drew an anatomically disproportionate phallus on his napkin I had to laugh as he tilted it up and asked me how to say it in English. After he had my response, he quickly flipped over the napkin, drawing attention to what he had just asked me. I cannot express in words the satisfaction I felt after that dinner. Something about having a dozen slightly inebriated Italian adults raising their voices asking “Cosa significa penis?” just made my night.